The controversy sparked by a Toll Brothers plan to demolish a row of buildings on the eastern side of Jewelers Row could encourage a different developer to move forward more aggressively with another development on this corridor. In case you haven't been following the saga, Toll Brothers owns 702-710 Sansom St. and intends to demolish the existing structures and build a 29-story building with 115 condos and ground floor retail. This will certainly impact the character of Jewelers Row and many people are up in arms about the plan. But when you consider that the properties have a generous CMX-5 zoning designation and absolutely no historic designation protection, there's little that anybody is going to be able to do to stop the project.

Current view of eastern side of the block

Rendering of Toll Brothers project

There have been conversations in recent months about ways to prevent this from happening in the future, with downzoning the 700 block of Sansom Street or designating Jewelers Row as historic being two possibilities. We aren't thrilled by either option; this block is in the heart of downtown Philadelphia and tall buildings make sense here. Perhaps a middle ground would be an ordinance that requires that any project that happens on Jewelers Row reuses the existing buildings and allows residential additions. Incidentally, that could have happened with the Toll Brothers project but as you can see in the rendering that's not the approach they're taking.

Further, that seems to be exactly the approach being taken by PRDC Properties, according to a recent story from This developer owns 734 Sansom St., the Jewelry Trades Building, a six-story structure that's home to numerous jewelry making businesses. At some point, PRDC intends to construct a six-story addition on the existing building, a project that would maintain the existing businesses in the building but add 54 residential units on the upper floors. It seems that these plans are not immediate in nature, but PRDC has pulled the zoning permit out of concern that the City will implement development restrictions on the block in the near future. With a zoning permit now in hand, a future development won't be hamstrung by changes to the block's zoning or the introduction of historic designation for Jewelers Row.

Next in line for redevelopment

Deco details at the entrance

On the plus side, it seems that initial reactions to this proposal are far more favorable than were the reactions to the Toll Brothers proposal. This would support our idea that the City should allow additions on this block but should insist that the existing facades are reused in any such development. It may be too late for this to impact the Toll Brothers project, but such an ordinance would go a long way to protecting the character of the rest of Jewelers Row. And if additional projects were to happen that added new residents to the block, that could actually improve things for the existing businesses.