Back in February, we told you that 526 S. Front St. was listed for sale for $3M and also available for lease for $7,000/mo. This address, for the uninitiated, was home to Downey’s Pub for a stunning period of time, with the business operating under a few different ownership groups from the 1970s through 2016. As we told you before, the building went to sheriff’s sale in 2017, trading for $1.15M, and it has been sitting vacant ever since.

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Demolition soon

When we last wrote about this property, we noted the enormous size of the restaurant space as a selling point, speculating that this feature could eventually lure a buyer or a tenant. But the opportunity also had a number of drawbacks, including the apparent poor condition of the interior, the uncertainty in the restaurant industry in a world still recovering from a 100-year global pandemic, and the general malaise around South Street that has been exacerbated by said pandemic. Also, the location of the property on the far eastern end of Center City is a limiting factor for foot traffic, with the population center only located in one direction and only a trickle of tourist and river enthusiasts coming from the east.

Alas, it seems that no buyer or tenant has come forward to date, and the property came off the market back in March. Now it appears that the owners are moving in a different direction, as they’ve pulled demolition permits, and the former Downey’s will soon be no more. This is certainly a bummer, as we were hopeful for a new bar and restaurant at this location which could serve as an anchor for the eastern end of South Street, and as we said, there are simply not very many huge bars to be found in Center City. So the loss of this restaurant space is certainly a shame for the commercial corridor. Here’s a look at the building from the 1950s, to show what it looked like before it got all dolled up by Downey’s:

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View of the building in 1954

The damage to the commercial corridor is more significant than the disappearance of a big commercial space, though. The property is zoned CMX-1, a light commercial zoning district that doesn’t actually require commercial use on the first floor. This zoning district does, however, permit multi-family use as a matter of right when a property is located next door to a multi-family zoned property. And that’s exactly the case here. So we anticipate that whatever building ultimately rises here won’t have a commercial component at all, but will instead be high end condos, the likes of which we’ve seen up the block on Front Street in a few different projects in recent years.

Looking north on Front Street

From where we sit, South Street needs all the help it can get, and the loss of a huge restaurant space, with only residential as the likely replacement, is a step in the wrong direction for the corridor. Of course, we are only speculating on what will rise here, but we believe that some kind of multi-family would be the most lucrative approach for whoever develops this property, while mixed-use would be a riskier bet. Sadly, this is another example of improper zoning producing an undesirable outcome- if this property were zoned CMX-2, for example, ground floor retail would be required and perhaps the former Downey’s wouldn’t be getting demoed. At this point though, the permit is pulled and the building will soon come down. We’ll just have to wait and see what gets proposed in its place to see whether we called it right.