Development Opportunity at Broad & Lombard?

An address on Broad Street in Center City, aka the Avenue of the Arts, is a trophy location in Philadelphia, and you’d think that these blocks would be lined with cultural institutions and/or tall buildings jammed with offices or apartments. This is generally the case next to City Hall, but within a shockingly small number of blocks, the scale decreases tremendously, with three-story buildings appearing before you even get to Lombard Street. These buildings are certainly not the highest and best use for this location, but at least they’re an upgrade over 417-21 S. Broad St., a surface parking lot.

Surface lot near Broad & Lombard

These properties have been a surface parking lot since the 1950s at least, and were previously home to three-story buildings, similar to the buildings that are still standing on either side. As is the case with some other underused properties in Center City, the parking lot is owned by the estate of Sam Rappaport, which has slowly divested itself of pieces of the infamous slumlord/philanthropist’s portfolio over the last number of years. As you can see from the sign on this property, it is currently listed for sale through Colliers International.

Overhead view

According to the brochure for the property, it measures a little over 9,000 sqft, and has frontage on both Broad Street and Watts Street. With CMX-4 zoning, a developer could build a residential tower by right here, though parking requirements would likely require a parking deck which would trigger a zoning refusal. An office building wouldn’t have a parking requirement, so that would be one way to approach the property, if looking for a by-right approach. Still, we aren’t sure that a developer would look to build any kind of tower here, given the slightly undersized nature of the property. Though there is one entity for whom this property should hold significant appeal…

Looking north on the east side of Broad Street

University of the Arts already owns a ton of property on South Broad Street, including the historic YWHA building just north of the surface parking lot. Earlier this year, news came out that the Gershman Y would be vacating the YWHA building after operating out of the building for close to a century, rebranding as the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival and moving to 5th & Market. UArts has been coy with their specific plans for the building, only stating that it will get renovated into student community space. We would have to think that UArts could make an even more compelling student space in the YWHA if they were to buy the parking lot next to the building and built an annex to the building in that space. Alternately, we could imagine a world in which a developer came forward to buy the YWHA building and the parking lot to develop the two in tandem, perhaps with an addition atop the historic building. Outside of these two possibilities though, we aren’t sure that the parking lot will sell at a price that reflects its market value, per square foot. In other words, it’s probably a development opportunity for someone other than you or us.