The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is a Philadelphia landmark, serving as the principal church of the Philadelphia Archdiocese and striking a stunning architectural presence at the corner of 18th, Race, and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Built between 1846 and 1864, the building is constructed in the Roman-Corinthian style, with heavy influence from the Lombard Church of Saint Charles, in Rome. Not only is the exterior of the building an example of fine architecture, but the interior is incredibly impressive as well, rivaling churches we’ve visited in Europe.
Based on our typical content, you might be a little worried right now. But shake it off. We’re not going to tell you that the Cathedral will be getting demolished in favor of town homes, or that it’s getting converted into loft apartments. The Cathedral is staying the same, as is the chapel next to it, and the rectory. It’s safe to say though, that just about everything else on this block could soon change dramatically.
Yes, the Archdiocese owns the entire City block, bounded by 17th, 18th, Race, and Vine Streets. We don’t have to tell you that this is incredibly valuable real estate. And if you look at the images above, you’ll probably agree that these properties could stand to be redeveloped. And it just so happens that the Archdiocese agrees. Almost exactly a year ago, Philly.com wrote a story about plan from the Archdiocese to redevelop over 2 acres of their campus, with plans for a couple of residential towers above retail. That plan also included new office space for the Archdiocese, community space, and a new Archbishop’s residence.
Philly.com recently penned a followup story that provides some more details on the plans from the Archdiocese. The story clarifies that the previously presented renderings were merely conceptual drawings, and that the Archdiocese isn’t currently married to any one concept for their property. Last month, the Archdiocese announced an RFQ, seeking a development partner to come up with a concept for a project that redevelops the land around the Cathedral, with the Archdiocese maintaining some control over what ultimately gets built. The Archdiocese would also maintain ownership of the property, with the development partner taking a 60-year ground lease.
It’s no secret that the Archdiocese has dealt with financial difficulties in recent years, as it has closed and sold off numerous churches to help make ends meet. One could make the argument that they should simply sell off their excess properties and take more cash up front, but partnering with a developer could result in cash flow for decades to come. At the same time though, the church is assuming risk here, both financially and due to the gamble inherent in choosing a development partner on a project worth tens of millions of dollars. We’ve seen the LDS Church take on a similar project over the last several years, building a large mixed-use building next to their new temple. Maybe the decision makers at the Archdiocese see that project, which seems like it’s going to be successful, and are wondering whether they can take a comparable approach. If they can, it will mean big things for this section of Logan Square.