Ahh, South Columbus Boulevard, the auto-centric, big-box retail corridor that separates South Philadelphia from the Delaware River. While our recent trip to the area shows there is mixed-use momentum down by the water, this stretch has remained stubbornly suburban-like since Bart Blatstein began buying up properties and redeveloping them into strip malls back in the late 1980s. One of the largest properties of the bunch was Riverview Plaza, which Blatstein sold back in 2003, when Cedar Realty Trust bought it with plans for a mixed-use development with over 250 apartments.
Since those grand plans were released, the property was actually repurchased by Blatstein last year. Plans at the time called for a $10 million update for the site that sits at 1100-1400 Columbus Blvd., though things look the same – if not worse – than at the time of the recent sale. These several blocks of strip malls are anchored currently by a Staples and a Pep Boys, with many other smaller retailers currently operating on the northern end of the complex. The area by the Staples and the section to the south near the former movie theater, however, remain mostly desolate, with Staples seemingly the only active business south of the 95 off-ramps which bisect the site.
As you have likely guessed by now, we have some news for the complex. And if you were hoping for glitzy renderings, calming landscaping, or even an apartment building to work its way into the fold, you would sadly be mistaken. So, what is coming? In one of the empty storefronts immediately next to Staples, a zoning permit was issued for a medical marijuana dispensary to join the office supply purveyor. What a world we live in, where you’ll be able to purchase printer paper and rolling paper in the same shopping center!
While we have absolutely no problem with a dispensary joining the fold here, any retail spot keeping this sad area in its current state should be viewed as something of a disappointment. This type of development contrasts with the approach laid out for the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which calls for a more walkable, mixed-use approach. And this ain’t that.
Interestingly, just across the street are two projects, one (also owned by Blatstein) that we referenced earlier is keeping the strip mall approach, while the other is doing anything but. Just to the south next to the Giant, more pad retail is proposed, with all of the parking that goes with it. Directly across the street is a tall tower proposal from Silverstein Properties, which adds a residential mass to ground floor commercial space and an expanded river trail.
For our money, we’d love to see more of the latter approach and less of the former. But it’s not our money! Looking forward, at the very least we would expect that something will happen to the former Riverview movie theater, as that building seems likely to meet the wrecking ball at some point. Perhaps, if the mixed-use project across the street finds success, a similar development could rise between Reed and Dickinson on the west side of Columbus Boulevard. Hey, we can dream, right?