As Unions Protest, 401 Race Street Slowly Comes Together

It was well before our time and it was probably before your time too that Old City was known more for manufacturing than for nightclubs and art galleries. At this point, virtually all of the neighborhood’s industrial past is gone, with many of the old buildings demolished and some converted into residential use. It didn’t make much sense to think about converting the Whitman’s Chocolate factory building at 401 Race St. into apartments though, thanks to its unexciting facade and low slung nature. With a sizable property located next to the Ben Franklin Bridge and across the street from Independence Mall, the site seemed like it was ripe for something at least moderately impressive. How about a hotel with a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill location on the first floor? Remember, we said moderately impressive.

Rendering of the project previously planned for this site

Such a project was indeed proposed for this site a number of years ago, with a design from JKRP Architects, but it ultimately fell through. And Toby Keith hasn’t set foot in Philadelphia since, probably. A couple years back, we told you that Priderock Capital Partners had purchased the property and had a new concept, a four-story residential building with 216 units and 184 parking spaces. On the one hand, we were pleased to learn that something was finally moving forward on this property and acknowledged that a couple hundred units was a big step up from a vacant industrial building. We also took issue with some aspects of the project, mostly complaining that such a prominent location deserved a building with a little more gravitas than a four-story apartment building.

Like it, love it or hate it, this thing is indeed getting built. We’ve passed by the project many times over the last couple years, and feel like construction is now at a point where it’s worth providing an update. There was quite a bit of underground work necessary for this project due to the underground parking, but that’s now way in the rearview mirror, as some sections of the building are fully framed. On the eastern side of the project, however, there’s still quite a bit of exterior work yet to come. It’s on that side of the building that the union workers are usually out protesting.

View at 5th & Race
Looking east on Race St.
View at 4th & Race
Northern side of the building

If we look at this thing with a glass half full attitude, at least the new building won’t overshadow the surrounding architecture or the nearby historical district. And let’s face it, the neighborhood clearly dodged a bullet when it avoided the addition of an I Love This Bar and Grill. But we still feel the way we did before groundbreaking, and seeing the new building take shape only strengthens our sense that this is a major missed opportunity for this location. The addition of a couple hundred units is well and good, but we would have preferred to see something great here.