2021 is in the books, and it was far from business as usual. Covid looked like it was going away, then not, then yes, now no. Streeteries never went away though, except in the areas where they’ve been arbitrarily declared illegal. The Eagles were terrible, then not so bad, then awful, and now they’re going to the playoffs. Schools were closed to start the year, and have thankfully remained open since last spring. Street sweeping was a thing, in a pilot program that will hopefully be expanded in the future. Remarkably, in the face of economic devastation and unprecedented challenges, businesses are continuing to press forward, and most have been able to weather an almost two-year-old storm.
Last year around this time, we made some predictions for 2021. Some of them worked out, and others not so much. Broad & Washington still didn’t break ground. Ditto the Gretz project in South Kensington. Also, the Civic, Phase 2 on Girard. Washington Avenue didn’t get re-striped. Our sports predictions were garbage as usual. Also, when we said that everyone would get vaccinated and it would be like an extended new years party starting in the fall? That was a wee bit off base.
We weren’t all wrong, though. There’s a real feeling of momentum around the Broad & Girard intersection, with new projects planned or under construction on blocks in all four directions. The northern part of Northern Liberties remains a huge construction zone, but there is also a vibe of change in that area, with additional projects coming down the pike nearby. Ridge Avenue, which has struggled for years to attract commercial tenants despite a ton of new construction, saw several businesses open on the corridor, portending additional growth in the near future. And boy oh boy, was there ever a mad rush to get new building permits approved before the end of the year changes to the tax abatement.
But enough looking backwards. Let’s peer into the old crystal ball, and see if we can get more right than wrong as we look toward the next twelve months.
First and perhaps requiring the least amount of foresight, we anticipate a construction boom in 2022. Not all of the projects that were rushing for permits before the end of last year will break ground this year, but we believe that many of them will. This boom will trend heavily toward multi-family development, which will be hit disproportionately hard by the changes to the abatement and also the new 1% construction tax. That being said, a number of townhome projects also got permits in late 2021, so we’ll see plenty of those projects as well.
So the trades will be quite busy this year, and certainly into next year. But after that, things are quite a bit more uncertain. We definitely anticipate a drop-off in terms of new construction permits this year, as the market tries to navigate the new reality of an altered tax abatement. For years, we worried that changes to the abatement might kill the goose that laid the golden egg, and starting this year we will see for sure whether that proves to be true. Of course, if our record on annual predictions is any indication, it’s probably a coin flip as to whether this will indeed be the case.
Along with changes to the tax abatement, District City Council members will try to squeeze the development process ever more tightly in the year to come. We’ve already seen demolition moratoriums in different areas, working around the Historical Commission. We’re seeing overlays on overlays, requiring parking, prohibiting certain types of projects, and inserting the community into by-right projects. Some corridors are being remapped, but in ways that make appropriate by-right development impossible. This will only continue. Unfortunately, corridors that need remapping, like Washington Avenue, Point Breeze Avenue, and Baltimore Avenue, will remain under-zoned.
Areas with more forgiving zoning, however, will boom. Ridge Avenue in Francisville was totally transformed because it’s zoned for height and density. The same is true of North Front Street. The southern section of Northern Liberties was remapped to CMX-3 a couple years ago, and last year we saw several huge projects proposed in the pocket between 2nd, 6th, Callowhill, and Spring Garden Streets. These by-right projects will collectively add over a thousand units and several retail spaces to this area, which has already seen one new project nearly finished, on 5th Street. We expect we’ll hear about one or two more projects coming to this area in the coming year, and we’ll see a couple groundbreakings here, too.
We also believe that the waterfronts are an area to watch, and not just because of flooding risks. We expect a few different projects to come to light in the coming year on both the Delaware waterfront and the Schuylkill banks. For projects that are already permitted, we expect a couple apartment buildings to rise near the waterfronts. Inspired by the success of the Northbank project on the Delaware, and due to those pesky abatement changes. we expect townhome projects to rule the day when it comes to projects that aren’t yet fully baked. Look for projects in Manayunk, South Philly, and East Falls, to name a few neighborhoods.
Okay, rapid fire prediction time:
- Evergreen prediction: Broad & Washington will break ground. (Hey, they did pull permits before the end of last year).
- 8th & Market will remain a parking lot and there will be no news of a plan for the site.
- All surface parking lots will be designated historic, especially the illegal ones
- We’ll see renovation work move forward at the old Gretz Brewery in South Kensington, using the revised plans from last summer.
- The Sixers will trade Ben Simmons for a case of Snapple and a raft of draft picks
- A couple larger projects will break ground on Point Breeze Avenue, despite the zoning challenges
- 27th & Girard won’t change a bit, but that pesky triangle at 19th & Wylie finally will.
- The City will turn the old Family Court building into office space using stimulus money and turn the Municipal Services Building into apartments.
- Progress on the Christian to Crescent section of the Schuylkill River Trail will motivate the closing of the recycling plant on Grays Ferry Avenue. The Pennovation Center will rejoice even as seagulls mourn.
- Hot neighborhoods will include Port Richmond, Roxborough, Grays Ferry, and Mount Airy. But every other neighborhood will still be cool in our book.
- And most importantly…
Let’s have another parade, baby!