400 N. Columbus Blvd. has all the potential in the world. It’s huge, spanning about five and a half acres. It’s right on the Delaware waterfront. It’s easily accessible from both Old City and Northern Liberties. But for as long as we can remember, it’s been sitting half vacant, with the other half occupied by a storage facility that would be much better if it was someplace else. So… what’s the deal here?

Overhead View
Overhead view

You may not remember, but this property was slated for development as World Trade Square, a massive mixed-use development that would have meant four enormous buildings with a mix of apartments and office space and over 2,000 parking spots to boot. That project was in the works for years before a City Council ordinance restricting height on the waterfront combined with the 2008 economic downturn submarined the project.

Old Rendering Of World Trade Square
Old rendering of World Trade Square

A few years later, a new proposal came along, shrinking the towers and eliminating the office use from the project. Developers first introduced Renaissance Plaza in 2012, and revised it in 2013, and again before going to the ZBA in 2014. The final plan approved by the ZBA included four residential towers to be built in phases. In order, those phases are 1) a 31 story building with 371 units and 295 parking spots, 2) a 21 story building with 310 units, 3) another 31 story building with 440 units and 340 parking spots, and 6 homes on Noble Street, and 4) another 21 story building with 221 units and 10 homes on Front Street. In 2016, two years after getting approval for the variance, the developers pulled a zoning permit for the project, but no other permits have been pulled at this time, as far as we can tell. Check out this rendering, from Alesker & Dundon, from a few years ago:

Renaissance Plaza Rendering
Renaissance Plaza rendering

We passed by this parcel a couple days ago and a sign posted to the fence on the south side of the lot caught our eye.

Two Signs On The Property
Two signs on the property

What the heck is Callowhill Court? Could it be that after all these years and all this planning, this parcel is going to be townhomes, a la the Bridgeview Homes project in South Philly? We had to know, so we called one of the realtors listed on the sign. And we learned, to our relief, that the Callowhill Court project has nothing to do with this property and refers to an upcoming project around the corner.

For now at least, Renaissance Plaza is still, in theory, in the cards. And we have to think it’s a positive indication that the developers pulled the zoning permit a year ago even though they haven’t done anything since then. There’s a shot that this property will get developed during the current development cycle, but with every passing day it becomes more likely that something this big will have to wait until the next cycle. Dang.

On the plus side, that storage facility is awfully convenient.