“The Ben” Finally on the Way at Corner of 2nd & Race

Despite being one of the more established and central neighborhoods in town, Old City has seen more recent building than one might expect. A surprising number of developments have popped up, ranging from single family homes to residential towers with hundreds of units. The buildings at 160-64 N. 2nd St. on the southwest corner of 2nd & Race have held out against redevelopment, despite a couple proposals that have come and gone over the years. We mentioned them just a month ago when we lamented past proposals that never moved forward, as the buildings today look more or less as unimpressive as they have for many years.

View looking southwest from 2nd & Race
160-64 N. 2nd St. goes to the chain link fence
The current one-story structure was repurposed to outdoor dining for Race Street Cafe, with lovely landscaping
View from a little west up Race St.

Given Old City’s historical district designation, a 65-foot height limit has restricted what can go up here, sadly putting the kibosh on some pretty cool plans. If you’re wondering why the Bridge apartment building just across Race Street is so tall, remember it took 15 years of back and forth and the Bridge Approach Overlay District before this could get built. But ah, to think about what could have been here, if only things would have happened a little differently.

2016 edition coming in at five floors
2018 version with 19 floors, with the similarly sized Bridge on Race in the foreground
2020 version shifting back to a scaled down six floors

At long last though, we have an update with some legs. Zoning documents have been approved for the demolition of the two low-rise buildings on the corner, with a six-story mixed-use building dubbed “The Ben” to rise in their place. Plans call for two commercial spaces facing 2nd Street with a lobby entrance angled towards Race Street. Based on the layout and the access to outdoor space, we could see a cafe/restaurant filling the southern spot – yet another addition to a livelier 2nd Street. Parking, a necessary inclusion to procure a by-right zoning permit here, will be located offsite, about a block to the west on Race Street. At the moment, we just have site plans and a massing for the building from Morrissey Architects and BVG Property Group, so we’ll have to wait a bit before we know exactly how the new building will present itself.

Ground floor layout shows lobby entrance on Race St., with two commercial spaces fronting N. 2nd St.
Zoning plan shows how building will fit onto panhandle-like lot
Elevations give an idea of future massing and little else
A little commute to the off-site parking spots

This seems like a pretty good outcome all things considered. Given the size and location of the building, we would put our money on (rather expensive) condos instead of apartments. While we are light on design info, we expect something pretty sharp to rise given Morrissey’s track record. To be clear, this project doesn’t preclude other development on the neighboring parcels to the south, which have been listed on and off for sale over the last several years. Perhaps the development of “the Ben” will spur renewed interest in the properties next door, and another project will soon appear, collectively offering a more welcoming gateway into the neighborhood to people visiting from the Delaware waterfront.