We’ve been pondering the vacant lot at the northeast corner of 9th & Wharton for years. We lived around the corner for awhile in the mid-aughts, and wondered about it almost every time we walked past. We wrote about it back in 2012, explaining that the Slovak St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church once stood there, but the congregation merged with another church in the 1970s and the building was demoed in the early 1990s. Then there was a mini golf course on the site for a short time (Philly had some strange stuff going in the 90s), followed by years of vacancy only briefly interrupted by a few months of a PHS pop-up garden in 2018. At least there was a nice enough mural on one of the adjacent walls, for the enjoyment of the countless tourists that visited the area for a cheesesteak from Pat’s or Geno’s… or both.
For a number of years, a member of the family that owns Pat’s owned this empty lot, and like we told you before, they were content to hold onto the land without much of a plan. A developer bought the property in 2014, but community opposition scuttled their plan. Yet another developer took over a few years later, and got a variance to build a mixed-use building with 21 apartments and retail on the first floor, along with a trio of homes on Wharton Street. They’ve dubbed the project Wharton Flats, and we shared a rendering last summer, when we last looked in on this property.
With plans finally approved for this long vacant patch of well located land, we were confident that things would finally move forward here. And they did, as foundations appeared last fall. Once steel went in, it seemed like construction stopped for a few months, and then the project got delayed like just about every other project in town due to the COVID construction freeze. Happily, when we passed by the property the other day, we saw that framing is now well underway on the apartment building.
Interestingly, there’s an outstanding zoning application to convert the building from rental apartments to visitor accommodations. We have to think this is an attempt to utilize the building as a short-term rental facility, and we wonder whether this will get ZBA approval after the community came out unenthused at the neighborhood zoning meeting a few months back. You know, when the ZBA is a thing again.
Whether the upstairs units are short or long term rentals, we can still think about what kinds of businesses might open on the first floor of the building. There’s about 5,000 sqft of space available, and a site plan from last year shows that space divided into two spaces. We’re inclined to rule out the possibility of a cheesesteak joint, as that seems to be well saturated at this intersection- but on the other hand, if two cheesesteak places can thrive here, why not a third? Alternately, a soul cycle concept or something of the like might make some sense here, to help work off all those steak sandwiches.