5000 E. Flat Rock Rd. might not be an address you’d immediately recognize, and for good reason. Sitting at the NW end of Venice Island, the man-made strip of land just off “mainland” Manayunk, this property is nearly impossible to see, save from quite a far distance. After serving as a paper mill for many years, this site actually had big plans fairly recently with former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith pitching an idea for Venice Innovation Island, with a master plan designed by Varenhorst. You can catch glimpses of the site from the Schuylkill River Trail as you can see below, but the past plans and the current site are best viewed from above.

An aerial of the Emmitt Smith-backed Venice Innovation Island
A gleaming innovation district would have repurposed some structures and built others from the ground up

The site has remained vacant since then, with no agreement being made for the site after the State balked at giving money to a former Cowboy (note: that is probably not the real reason). After a fire damaged some of the buildings in 2019, the site changed hands at long last in 2021, selling to a subsidiary of A.P. Construction for $4.5 million. Back then, the developers had no preliminary plans for the site. But the major news recently is…zoning and demolition permits have been issued, with work now full steam ahead for the full demolition of all structures on site. We couldn’t get a great view, but the sounds of demolition were unmistakable. You can see that the site looks quite a bit different today than those gleaming plans for a Navy Yard-type facility that were promised several years back.

The view along Flat Rock Rd. isn't quite as inspiring in its current state
As far NW as we could go, looking at the structures that will be demolished
A tree-lined residential street juxtaposes against the industry to the north

What lies ahead? We are still unsure, as no other permits have been pulled as of yet. We don’t have the highest hopes for a mixed-use community here, as the owners have a forte in infrastructure, and other documents we discovered dated from 2020 suggest water management may be in the works. While practical, we can’t help but feel a pang of “what if”, as the view looking SE from the site is wildly different than what we’ve explored thus far.

Might we see a hybrid approach in the future which ties together the residential area to the infrastructure to the north? We’re not sure, but it goes to show that even 31 acres near a major commercial center can still hide from even the most intrepid explorers within our ever-intriguing city.