Ajax Metal Co.– Mixed Use Development

Developer Michael Samschick, owner of the recently completed penthouses at Waterview Grande part of his emerging development call Penn Treaty Village, hopes to transform the former Ajax Metal Works, at Frankford and Delaware avenues in Fishtown, into a 3,000-person music venue, a bowling alley, two restaurants and a distillery.  He also plans to turn the nearby dry ice building at 44 Richmond Street into a country and western establishment with live music, shared by Fishtown Neighbors Association Zoning Committee Chair Matt Karp.

Waterview Grande

Canal Street

The main entrance to the Ajax building music venue would not be on Frankford Avenue, but on Canal Street.  Committee members see this as a good thing because there are residences on the north side of Frankford Avenue, and the more sheltered they can be from people going to the music venue, the better  off the community will be.

The 337 parking spaces for the proposed business would be located beneath I-95.  The proposal calls for surface lots at 25 Richmond St., 49-61 Richmond St., 1011-23 N. Front, 1025-31 N Front, and 35-51 Laurel St.

Samschick is working with Philadelphia's Interface Studio to create a master plan for his Delaware Avenue parcels, blueprint of which we hope to see partly revealed some time in September.  Until then he wont reveal much, saying he doesn't want to raise expectations for something specific, only to have plans change as negotiations with prospective partners progress.  The complex will be a mixed use of retail, residential and commercial spaces tying in all the elements.  Samschick began buying up property on or near Delaware Avenue about ten years ago, because due to research on large cities, waterfronts are the last to be developed, but make the greatest impact on the city.  He believes the Delaware Waterfront will have a huge impact on Philadelphia, with the potential to be one of the greatest waterfronts in the country.

205 Race Street

Developer Jeffrey Brown revisits a proposal he once had high hopes for years ago before development across the city came to a halt.  Brown is once again hoping to transform the vacant lot he owns at 205 Race Street into a 16-story, 128-unit apartment building with commercial uses on the ground floor.

New Proposal

Last Tuesday the project was presented to the Old City Civic Association, where it was voted on and rejected 11-to-1.  The site is located in a C-3 zoning district which has strict restriction on height and building width.  The portion of the project that fronts on Race Street would be 5 stories and 60 feet high, up from 52 feet in the previous plan.  A residential tower, to be set back 14.5 feet from Race along the Ben Franklin Bridge, would be 197.5 feet high, up from 178 feet in the previous plan.  The first floor would be dedicated to commercial uses, and the developer hopes to bring in a big client, like a supermarket to fill a large retail space.

Past proposal

The proposal exceeds the 65-foot height cap and the 70-foot width cap contained in Old City's overlay. It also violates the 450% maximum gross floor area of the C-3 district, with a proposed total area of 695 percent of the lot.  Officials feel that the current proposal is an overbuild and blatant disregard to the support it received on its past proposal considering its violations then, with a current proposal that pushes the envelope even more further violating district restrictions.

The proposal also includes plans for 34 interior parking spots, accessible via Florist Street, which runs parallel to the Bridge.  This does not meet the minimum of 90 spaces (7 per 10 units) required under the old zoning code, nor would it meet the 38-space minimum requirement of the new code (3 spaces per 10 units).  If the ZBA grants the zoning relief requested, construction would likely begin in the first quarter of 2013.


Navy Yard Master Plan Revision

Natalie Kostelni of the Philadelphia Business Journal reports that the Navy Yard master plan, the 8-year-old document which has guided the South Philadelphia Business park through $600 million in private investment, is being revised.

When the master plan was first unveiled in 2004 by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., it had focused on 600 acres of the 1,200-acre site.  The plan built on the property's industrial history but also defined a mix of office, research, commercial and residential development that would eventually result in attracting as many as 30,000 jobs to South Philadelphia.  By the end of this year 10,000 people will report to work in the Navy Yard, a third of the plans goal.

The PIDC feel it is time to take a step back and look at the plan for the future and understand where the next phase of investment should occur.   PIDC wants to make sure that Naval Ships Systems, which has grown over the last decade to have more than 1,800 employees, has reserved space to expand in the future.  PIDC now owns less than half of the 600 acres it did when the master plan was first drawn up.  It conveyed a large swath of land to the state and regional port authority to accommodate port expansion.  As a result the new master plan will concentrate on about 350 acres.  The organization also plans to set aside some of the historic buildings to be converted into residential use rather than create free-standing residential communities.

The Granary

The Granary luxury apartments will be built at 20th and Callowhill streets in the Logan Square neighborhood, adding 227 more-and two-bedroom apartments to the market, and over 20,000 sgft of ground level retail space, and underground parking.  The building amenities include a lobby/lounge, fitness center, library/music room, club room with terrace, business center, and pet daycare center.

The design of the project will incorporate the existing historic Granary site, which is a relic of the neighborhoods past reminding us of the industrial history of Philadelphia.  The existing structure will be renovated and a new tower will be constructed in the adjacent lot.  The project is scheduled for completion in late 2013.


Renaissance Plaza; Delaware Waterfront

The old World Trade Square Proposal site may finally see life in what seems to be the start of a new era in the development of Philadelphia's Delaware Waterfront.  Since the adoption of the Delaware master plan overlay, and just recently the installment of the new city wide zoning code, we have seen an increase in proposed development projects along the river, many are revised versions of projects we've seen in the early years of the last decade.

Todays featured project is located at 400 N. Columbus blvd.  Developer Waterfront Renaissance Associates plans to build a 1,458-unit, four-tower residential and retail complex at the corner of Columbus Boulevard and Spring Garden Street, at the same location WRA had planned to construct World Trade Square.

Old World Trade Square

The tallest two of the four towers of Renaissance Plaza would rise 426 feet, the other two 227 feet.  The shorter towers would be more than double the 100-foot height limit established in the Central delaware Waterfront Master Plan.  This has raised red flags for a few concerned board members of DRWC.  The shorter towers would be more than double the 100-foot height limit established in the  Master Plan.  However, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, which must approve plans of development for projects within the Central Delaware, has the power to grant exceptions to the height limits.

The proposal for the 5.29 acres site includes more than 90,000 square feet of retail space.  The developments also plans for public open space and green areas that all Philadelphians- complex residents or not- can use.  The project would be built to the highest LEED standard attainable, and include a green roof with swimming pools.

"The owner and architect (Bill Alesker of Alesker & Dundon) sought a design they say will be a signature project for the waterfront.  They feel the project will be a catalyst for future development along Columbus Boulevard and help connect the adjacent neighborhood with the waterfront.  Indeed no final decisions have been made, and I personally hope the planning commission sends the designers back to the drawing board to rethinking the design and building material selection.  The current renderings look very dated and lack vision.  I see it as an insult to the incredible potential this waterfront has at its infant stage.  The bar should not only be set high with building standards but also in aesthetics, because aesthetics is the mental imprint visitors and residents will leave with. Beautiful design is what gets the buzz going, not LEED standards, although important, but not good enough.


Umbrella Factory

The 178,000 sqft abandoned Umbrella Factory located on the corner of 5th St. and Master St. in Olde Kensington will soon be converted into 142 residential loft style condominiums and 2 commercial spaces.  The units will also be suitable for conversion to assisted-living, student housing, or subsidized/artist housing.

The eight-story skeleton of brick and empty windows has sat vacant for more than 20 years.  However, with $25 million in private investment, the building will soon be transformed into luxury condos, off-street parking and boutique shops.

Many worry that gated communities like the coming Umbrella Factory condominiums will push residents out of the neighborhood, which is why 18 neighborhood groups have united to form the Eastern North Philadelphia Coalition.  Their goal is the get Medini, one of the buildings new owners, to sign a community benefits agreement.  This is to make sure any big development in their neighborhood is equitable development.

Medini, his lawyer and the 125 members of the community began talking about the kind of assurances that would curb the gentrification of this old factory community.  Many cities have developed policies that allow residents to defer property tax payment until they sell their homes.  They've also considered zoning that would require new housing developments to set aside a specific number of affordable units. Or caps are placed on property taxes for the elderly and low-income residents.

Developers like Medini get a 10-year tax abatement while property taxes for some residents in this community have increases excessively in the last five years.  Some suggested Medini setting aside a percentage of construction jobs for local residents, creating a science lab, computer center or music program at Ludlow School, sponsor local athletic teams, or allot a portion of the condos for affordable housing.  Although Medini disagrees on the Affordable Housing, the future will reveal his final compromise.


Pier 34 & 35 Development

Last Thursday Ensemble Real Estate, the developer who plans to build several new residential projects on the Central Delaware, presented updated plans for an apartment building on Piers 24 and 35 to the Central Delaware Advocacy Group.  The developers have made some modifications by removing the loading dock from street view, and the portion of the building fronting Columbus Blvd. has been brought down to 100 feet to fit the Master Plan, with an additional 180- foot structure set back from the street surpassing the 100 foot limit. This still leaves waterfront advocates questioning the public benefit the project will offer.  All that was offered was an 8-foot wide promenade leading to the river, which isn't much of a public amenity.

Building Materials

The building will contain 209 residential units, along with 209 parking spots, some of which will be dedicated to car-shares.  The trash and loading area will be hidden from street view, as will a ramp leading up to a two-level parking garage.  The parking garage itself will be screened from street view by residential units.  The project does not currently offer retail on the ground floor but does contain corner glass facades that can one day be converted to retail.  The developer says that they chose this route because there is currently no demand for retail in the neighborhood.  Davit Ertz, Principal at Cope Linder Architects has repeatedly said he does not believe the waterfront development will be able to support retail uses for at least 25 years.  Oh ye of little faith in our dear Philadelphia!!??

The project will be presented again on August 21st.

Marina View Gets Approval

Monday the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved the controversial Marina View Condominium Building, which opponents criticized for its incompatibility with the Old City Historic District and Master Plan for the Central Delaware.

PlanPhilly reports: The 8 story building over a 3-story parking garage, received a Plan of Development approval from the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in mid-June, with the approval granted having to do primarily with matters of size and massing.  The Architectural Committee of the Historic Commission also reviewed the project for design and compatibility considerations in the context of the Old City Historic District.  The project didn't fare well, with committee members expressing particular concern about the colors and materials planned for the building.

Therefore, Monday the applicants began by offering some new design compromises.  They presented various design features that include: its height difference to the bridge anchorage, its set-back siting, the green roof on its garage.  Architect Eric Rahe of BLT Architects said that in response to the Architecture Committee's suggestions, he was open to softening some of the disputed orange accents, and to filling in the void left by the connection between the parking and the residential units.

Even though the project was granted approval, there are still a majority which disapprove of the project which they feel sets the bar low, as the first development since the adoption of the Delaware River Master Plan.  Many would like to see a better quality of materials and color choices.  The attorney to the developer Louis Cicalese, argued that the building would not offer a "trophy" design, and budget constraints and the buildings target market and intended use governed the choice of materials.  Sounds to me like the Developer doesn't hold his future occupants in high regard, staking his claim that they and the city only deserve cheap building materials.  The Developer doesn't seem to care about how poorly the building materials will age over time, adding to a future decline in neighborhood aesthetics, before the neighborhood can truly manifest itself.


Temple University Morgan Hall

Driving south on I-95 or along Broad Street you may have noticed a tower peaking out of an oasis of smaller homes and mid-rise buildings.  In case you were not informed, this new structure is a product of Temple University's expansion plans, a new residential complex called Mitchell and Hilarie Morgan Hall.

The 27-story tower is part of a large building complex which includes a shorter 10-story mid-rise building.  When complete in 2013 Morgan Hall will have more than 1,200 beds, many of them located in the tower offering unparalleled views of Philadelphia.  The tower features four-person suites, each with a full kitchen, shared living space and two bathrooms.

The 10 story mid-rise building will feature residences, and administrative space, and a separate facility with retail dining facilities.  Together, the buildings will add 660,000 gross square feet of building to the main campus physical plant.

The facility will offer additional jobs and economic opportunity to members of the North Philadelphia community.  As part of the larger Temple 20/20 framework for the Main Campus physical transformation, the complex makes good on the university's pledge to attract more students to live on campus while remaining within Temple's existing footprint.

In conjunction with the project, Temple also created 250 four-year scholarships to be awarded over 10 years to students in the North Philadelphia neighborhoods surrounding its main campus.  The program is boosting the amount of scholarships awarded to Philadelphia students by Temple to nearly $12 million annually.


G8 Development's 2400 Amber Street Residents Photo-Opp

A few months ago G8 Development placed its first new construction project at 2200 Amber Street in Kensington on the market as well as its twin at 2400 Amber St.  Here is a look inside these sustainable contemporary townhomes!