We first drew your attention to the terrible Liberty Shopping Plaza at 501 Spring Garden St. waaaaay back in 2011. At the time, we likened this shopping center to a jail for stores and offered a recommendation to tear it down and start over at this prominent location. More recently, we revisited the shopping center and noted that it had become slightly more friendly to shoppers, with a few storefronts breaking through the exterior of the building to create frontage on Spring Garden Street. We also went through the history of the property and noted that it had been chopped up into a dozen retail condo units when it was constructed. This being the case, we were skeptical as to whether anyone could unify ownership under one entity, and we resigned ourselves to the likely scenario that the Liberty Shopping Plaza would be holding down the corner of 5th & Spring Garden for many years into the future.
In general, we don’t like being wrong. But in this case, we will make a huge exception. We were way off base, as it turns out that someone has indeed taken ownership over this entire property and now they’re pursuing a project that will see this property swap a hideous and squat shopping center for a building with height, density, parking, and probably more retail square footage than is currently at the site. In the works is a 12-story building that will include 382 apartments, 211 parking spots (with the vast majority located underground), and over 60K sqft of retail space. Thanks to the magic of CDR, we can share some renderings from BLTa.
We can’t say we could have predicted the approach the developers are taking to this parcel. The project will be happening by right in the CMX-3 zoning district, which allows for 500% FAR. In other words, a project could cover 100% of the property at a height of 5 stories or 50% of the property over ten stories or any similar ratio. For this project, the eastern portion of the property will have a U-shaped twelve-story building and the western side will have a one-story box with a huge retail space that looks like it’s angling for a supermarket.
Pushing the height to 5th Street isn’t crazy given the width of the street, but we might have alternately considered pushing the height toward Spring Garden Street and away from the low rise homes located immediately to the north. Alternately, we might have also looked to reduce the height to a less expensive to build 6 stories and had the apartments go across the entire site. One possible explanation for this approach- maybe the developers are planning to use the western side of the building as a platform for a future apartment building, to be constructed after the first one is built and occupied. We should note that such a plan would require a variance from the ZBA, if that’s indeed their intention.
Whether this project entails a second apartment building in the hazy future or just the one featured in the renderings above, it’s still a huge step in the right direction for this parcel, which has been dramatically underused for decades. Once this project kicks into gear, it should energize developer interest in other properties along this section of Spring Garden Street and we could see additional projects appear on some other underused parcels. Even if that doesn’t come to pass, the street, the neighborhood, and the entire city will be better off once this junky shopping center goes away. We’d have liked to see this back in 2011, but hey, better late than never.