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Center City : Development News

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PIDC awarded $38 million in tax credits to develop distressed neighborhoods

For the third time in five years, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) has been awarded a multimillion-dollar allocation in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) from the U.S Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund.

PIDC received a total of $110 million in NMTC allocations in 2009 and 2012; the latest award will add an extra $38 million to the organization’s coffers.
Created by Congress in late 2000, the goal of the NMTC program is to bring private investment dollars to low-income and distressed neighborhoods by providing developers with federal tax credits. The application process is competitive -- only 87 organizations received allocations from the most recent round, which totaled $3.5 billion in NMTC awards.  
Ultimately, the hope is that the allocations will stimulate a level of private investment even greater than the initial credit. Here in Philadelphia, that goal is being met. A total of $239 million in private sector investment resulted from the $110 million previously allocated via PIDC. And that’s to say nothing of the 950 jobs created thanks to those projects.
The mixed-use Oxford Mills apartment-and-office facility in Fishtown, for instance -- which was the subject of a 2013 New York Times feature -- was a recipient of PIDC’s previous allocations. So too was the NewCourtland LIFE Center, a senior health and wellness center that sits on a long-vacant former brownfield site.
As for what will come of PIDC’s 2013 award, Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Calter says it’s a bit too early to tell.

"We do have a pipeline of projects to utilize our $38 million allocation," she says. "But at this point I can’t talk about any specifics."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jessica Calter, PIDC

Welcome to the next chapter in the ongoing saga of the Divine Lorraine

From its perch on the corner of Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue in North Philly, the ten-story Divine Lorraine -- currently crumbling, nearly in ruins -- has been watching over Philadelphia for 120 years.
Recently, the latest chapter in the life of this gorgeous relic was made public: A New Jersey-based real estate mogul with an impressive record of rescuing stalled development projects has agreed to lend just over $31 million to the building's current owner, Eric Blumenfeld, who purchased the building in late 2012 but underestimated renovation costs. So, after sitting empty for the past 15 years, a bit of optimism is in the air.    
"It seems my entire career, I came in to finish things other people couldn't get done," says Billy Procida, the lender who's now working with Blumenfeld on the building's renovation. The Lorraine may become a high-end apartment building, Procida says, or perhaps a hotel.
Either option will include 21,000 square feet of commercial space -- likely a mix of restaurants, lounges and retail, according to Procida, who feels that a highly visible boutique hotel could turn the neighborhood's fortunes around almost immediately. "I've just got to see if we can find an operator who can move fast enough," he adds.  
Procida and Blumenfeld are also exploring a 50-50 option for the building -- turning half of it into apartments and the other half into a hotel. But when it comes to the Lorraine's crucial status in North Philly, Procida has few doubts.

"If this building was finished, that neighborhood would be on fire right now," he says. "The one thing holding that neighborhood back is that building. It's that simple."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Billy Procida, Procida Funding & Advisors


Saxbys Coffee preps new cafe and corporate headquarters in Philadelphia

In a world where coffee snobs are more interested in small-batch roasting houses like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia than international chains, there's no longer a lot of street cred to be gained by wandering around town with a cardboard Starbucks cup. But if you're the type who's more concerned with showing off your hometown Philly pride, you might want to consider developing a Saxbys Coffee habit.
The chain was founded in Atlanta in 2005, but relocated two years later to Delaware County. Saxbys has now plans to move its corporate headquarters once again, this time to Philadelphia proper. And while Saxbys is keeping mum about the date of its upcoming move -- and hasn't yet closed on a location -- those details should be made public this summer.

According to president and CEO Nick Bayer, the company also has tentative plans to open eight new cafes throughout the Mid-Atlantic region this year. Locally, a lease has been signed on a 1,700-square-foot location the company is calling Saxbys Wash West. Scheduled to open on the southwest corner of 11th and Locust this summer, it'll be their sixth location in the city.

"We're also looking at a couple other pieces of real estate in Philly that may deliver this year," says Bayer, who adds that he's also been working for the past 18 months on a deal with Drexel University. "We can't announce exactly where it is just yet," he says of the Drexel cafe, "but it's going to be something very unique; it's going to be much more than just a traditional neighborhood coffee shop."
Stay tuned to Flying Kite for more details as the deals develop.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Nick Bayer, Saxbys Coffee 

Here comes Spruce Street Harbor Park, another mind-blowing Penn's Landing installation

As part of its increasingly ambitious master plan for the Central Delaware, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) has announced its latest seasonal project.
Dubbed a "summer waterfront installation," the Spruce Street Harbor Park at Penn's Landing Marina will be a two-month-long landscaping and programming pop-up project that will temporarily transform the space into an outdoor oasis.
Scheduled to run June 27 through August 31, the installation will feature a boardwalk, an urban beach, fountains, misting areas, a pop-up restaurant and bar, and, perhaps most exciting of all, "a series of floating barges complete with lily pad water gardens," according to a release, "and nets that will suspend visitors over the water."
According to DRWC's Jodie Milkman, the Spruce Street Harbor Park was developed as an expansion of the group's most recent seasonal installation, Waterfront Winterfest, which brought a pop-up beer garden and fire pits to the Blue Cross RiverRink last winter. The Winterfest installation was wildly successful -- despite being closed for a record 13 days due to inclement weather, the rink's attendance numbers were still 30 percent higher than last year's.   
A $300,000 grant from ArtPlace America, which offers grants to civic organizations and cities to activate public spaces through art, provided a portion of the funds for both installations; according to Milkman, DRWC will match those funds.   
And what will happen to the fountains and floating barges once the season comes to an end? There are no guarantees just yet, but Milkman says conversations about repeating both installations are already underway.  

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jodie Milkman, DRWC


Details for second Comcast tower revealed; plus, Blatstein buys waterfront lot

Philadelphia, like all cities, is in a constant state of evolution. This moment, in particular, feels charged with change -- fins, limbs, eyes are spouting all over the place.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has revealed details about the buzzed-about Comcast Innovation & Technology Center, the corporation's second skyline-altering tower. Curbed Philly covered the annoucement, and compiled this list of essential facts:

- 59 floors, 1,121 ft
- 1,321,921 square feet of office space
- 242,680 square feet of hotel space (222 rooms over 12 floors)
- 3,483 square feet of retail space
- LEED Gold or Platinum certification (anticipated)
- 126-foot glass blade at top
- Concourse connection to Comcast Center and Suburban Station
- 47 total bike racks on Arch Street/Cuthbert Street
- Ground floor bike shower/changing room
- 21 total outdoor benches
- 20 percent water use reduction
- 3-story office skygardens
- 70 underground parking spaces
- Open to the public from at least 8 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily

In another exciting development, 1 percent of the total construction costs will be spent on art in public spaces. Click here for a review of the entire project.

As all this was breaking, another big deal went down. Bart Blatstein -- who is already working on a transformative project at Broad and Washington -- has purchased a large lot on the Delaware Waterfront, between Tasker and Reed Streets. In a funny narrative twist, Blatstein actually owned the property 21 years ago, before selling it to Foxwoods as a potential casino site. That plan obviously never came to fruition. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The Foxwoods property in South Philadelphia was once the site of a sugar refinery. As large as a city block, the property was assembled by Blatstein in 1993. At the time, he thought he would develop a big-box shopping center.

The deal fell through, but something better came along: gambling.

In 1993, influential politicians were beginning to advocate for riverboat gambling. Blatstein rode a wave of casino speculation. Operators from Las Vegas and Atlantic City were lining up outside Blatstein's door, angling for his land.

A year after spending $8.5 million to assemble the site, Blatstein flipped it for more than $64 million to a company that became Caesars Entertainment.

The profit from that transaction gave Blatstein the financial firepower to become a major developer in the city. His signature development, which Tower Investments started in 2000, was the Piazza at Schmidts rental apartments in Northern Liberties.

Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development, speculates that the land will be developed into a mix of residential and retail; Blatstein is remaining tight-lipped for the moment.

In a big potential boon for riverfront improvement efforts, the deal will transfer a 100-foot-wide strip of land along the river's edge to the Natural Lands Trust, a conservation organization, enabling the continued progress of the city's waterfront trail.

Writer: Lee Stabert
Source: Curbed Philly,
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Former Governor Ed Rendell wins Ed Bacon Prize for his promotion of smart transportation

The late Edmund Bacon, born in Philadelphia during the summer of 1910, is a man whose name is synoymous with local architecture and urban planning. Former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell will speak on that very subject on February 18 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where he'll also be awarded with the 8th annual Edmund N. Bacon Prize from the Philadelphia Center for Architecture.
According to David Bender, associate director of the Center, the annual Ed Bacon Prize is awarded to a professional who has achieved a significant amount of success in urban planning, development and design. (Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic for The New Yorker, and Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, are both past recipients.)
Rendell's achievements, Bender explains, were largely transportation-related, such as his proposal to add tolls to the Pennsylvania-wide Interstate 80. Investment in transportation infrastructure, Rendell once said, is vital to America's economic competitiveness, and is "the best job creator we have for well-paying jobs and also to help American manufacturing."
The student winners of the annual Better Philadelphia Challenge will also be honored during the event. This year's Challenge, which is held in honor of Bacon, asked design and architecture students worldwide to imagine a future Philadelphia landscape populated with the sort of self-driving vehicles currently being designed by Google. A $5,000 award will go to the first prize winner. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: David Bender, AIA Philadelphia 

Is The Boyd Theatre finally ready for its close-up?

Following a months-long negotiation process with the city's Historical Commission and various preservation groups, Center City's Boyd Theatre might finally be ready to come alive again.  

Roughly two years ago, Florida-headquartered iPic-Gold Class Entertainment first showed interest in developing one of its high-end movie theaters at The Boyd, which opened in late-1928 as a silent film theatre (it closed for good in 2002). And while, in 2008, local preservationists managed to have the Boyd added to the Historical Commission's list of "protected assets," iPic has made a controversial choice: It asked for the Commission's blessing to completely gut the Boyd's auditorium, claiming the project wouldn't otherwise make financial sense. (The building's façade, its marquee and entranceway would all be restored under iPic's plan.) 

"The plan to totally restore [the Boyd] into its original state inside -- to make it either a one-screen movie theatre or a Broadway-type theatre -- those plans are all $30 to $50 million," says Kirk Dorn of Ceisler Media, which manages iPic's PR. "And you couldn't get the revenue from the theatre to produce that ."
On February 14, iPic will present its development plan -- two stories consisting of eight small theaters with reserved stadium seating, in-theatre dining and in-theatre waitstaff -- to the city's full commission. An onsite restaurant is also in the picture, and assuming iPic receives a "yes" vote on Valentine's Day, "We're hoping to open sometime in 2015," says iPic general counsel Paul Safron. 

"We're still willing to work with the preservation community," adds Safron. "We're happy to incorporate some of the design concepts and elements if we can."

Update: On February 12, we were informed by Kirk Dorn that the Philadelphia Historical Commission has postponed iPic's full commission hearing for one month; it's now scheduled for March 14. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Kirk Dorn, Ceisler Media and Paul Safron, iPic Entertainment 

As Benjamin's Desk celebrates an expansion, two new potential co-working locations are in the works

Local coworking space Benjamin's Desk recently leased an entire extra floor inside the Allman Building at 17th and Walnut. During the grand opening reception last Friday, visitors had an opportunity to check out the expanding organization in person. 

There were the expected touches -- exposed brick walls and duct work, perfectly buffed hardwood floors -- and then there were the amenities you don't always find in the coworking world: craft beers are on tap in the communal kitchen and a small outdoor roof deck that will eventually house a bar with lounge-like seating.    

According to president and CEO Michael Maher, who opened Benjamin's Desk on the building's seventh floor in October 2012, the newly-revealed eighth floor has been operational since September of last year. So why a five-months-late grand opening? 

"We had the space occupied by a company that was in stealth mode," explains Maher. "Now that the [eighth] floor is [officially] open and we're getting it occupied, we're looking to expand elsewhere in the region, including University City and the suburbs."

Maher says he and his colleagues are still "in the early stages of understanding what potential customers would want" in a University City or suburban-based shared office space, and they're being pretty hush-hush in terms of the exact locations under consideration. 

"We definitely think there is a demand in both [University City and the suburbs]," he adds. "But it took us two years to find this location. We'll wait until we find the right locations."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Michael J. Maher, Benjamin's Desk

This summer, gallery-worthy bicycle racks will sprout throughout Center City

Thanks to a recently-formed partnership between the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP) and the City's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, local cyclists -- especially those who ride into Center City on a regular basis -- will have at least 10 new places to lock up this summer. 

BCGP applied to the Knight Arts Challenge, a contest aimed at beautifying public spaces. "We were one of the 43 winning proposals selected back in May, along with a lot of other great projects of varying size and scope," says BCGP's Nicholas Mirra. 

That application consisted of about a dozen designs for site-specific, artist-created bicycle racks. One particularly unusual rack, constructed from stainless steel with room for four bikes, resembles a patch of waist-high grass. Another rack, this one with space for six bikes, is a minimalist sculpture featuring three life-size guard dogs. 

The Knight Foundation's $50,000 grant was predicated on the two partner organizations' ability to raise matching funds. That goal was accomplished via anonymous donations and money offered by the half-dozen or so institutions scheduled to host the racks on their properties. And while negotiations for a few locations are still in progress, the artist-designed racks are set to arrive this summer outside of City Hall, Sister Cities Park, Boathouse Row, Café Pret, Penn Center Plaza and the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Perlman Building.    
And for those who suggest that the city already has more than enough parking for two-wheeled riders, Mirra offers this retort: "There aren't enough. If you look around sections of Center City, the spaces for bicycle parking are as full as the spaces for car parking. And so you get bikes parked to trees, [and] parked to private fencing where they're not supposed to be. There's [simply] not enough bike parking in the city."

Fortunately, that's about to change.

Source: Nicholas Mirra, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia 
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Calling all developers: Build something exciting on Chestnut Street

The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to redevelop three lots along Chestnut Street. Chestnut Street has long experienced some difficulty attracting and retaining businesses and storefronts. However, as previously reported in Flying Kite, successful residential communities have sprung up along the street in recent years.

Accoring to PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA has received several inquiries about the location in question, a vacant four-story building at 2012 Chestnut, and adjoining parcels formerly used for parking at 2014 and 2016 Chestnut. Executive offices in the four-story building relocated more than three years ago, and it has been unoccupied since. 

At a time when retail development is growing in the district, it is important to mitigate vacancies.

"It's in the best interest to redevelop this property to help maintain a vibrant, healthy atmosphere in Center City," says Jeremiah.

Proposals for 2012, 2014 and 2016 Chestnut Street may include the demolition or rehabilitation of the current building at 2012 Chestnut. Mixed-use, office, commercial and residential use will all be considered for the project; the winner will best utilize all three lots.

Under the terms of the RFP, PHA will continue to own the ground at the site, leasing it to the developer. The developer will finance, plan, design, construct, own and operate the building or buildings. 

Because the site is located in the Center City West Commercial Historic District, the winning developer must also comply with the historic review process. 

The deadline for submitting proposals is February 7, 2014; PHA plans on awarding a development contract in May 2014.

Writer: Nicole Woods
Source: Kelvin Jeremiah, Philadelphia Housing Authority

Office of New Urban Mechanics announces grantees who will transform public spaces

The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics is doling out $20,000 worth of grants to foster art and design-based projects that address civic challenges or improve public space. Among the winners are Flying Kite favorites such as the Public Workshop, the University City District and Friends of Maplewood Mall in Germantown. The awardees are as follows: 

Public Workshop will receive a $6,000 grant to fund "Choose Your Own City Hall Adventure," a new signage initiative in City Hall that will help individuals navigate the serpentine public space more efficiently.

University City District will receive a $3,900 grant to create "Tree Seats," a functional art project providing seating in naturally shaded areas across the neighborhood.

The North 5th Street Revitalization Project will receive $5,100 to support the "Gateways to Olney: Where Local is Global" project, a collaborative partnership that transforms key bus stops along corridor into small-scale visitor centers.

The Friends of Maplewood Mall will receive a $5,000 grant to make physical improvements to Germantown's historic Maplewood Mall; the grant will also support arts-related programming.

The Challenge Grants Competition is a partnership between the Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Funding is provided by the Knight Foundation and managed by CEOs for Cities.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.

National vacant land conference comes to Philly

Philadelphia's vacant land has been one of the most debated public policy issues of recent years. And for good reason -- the city is losing millions every year in maintenance costs, delinquint taxes and decreased adjacent property values. The problem is so big that the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference is in town through September 11, shedding some light on the conundrum and examining innovative solutions.  
Put together by the Center for Community Progress, the conference is drawing upwards of 800 public and private sector experts in land banking, tax foreclosure, code enforcement and urban planning from around the country.
"Over the past two years, Philadelphia has taken several strategic and significant steps toward addressing its long-standing vacant property issues," explained John Carpenter, Deputy Executive Director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and co-chair of the conference local planning committee in a press release. "The Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference is our opportunity to share our successes with other cities while also learning from their achievements."
One of the most important steps for Philadelphia is creating a city-wide land bank. It will allow the city to clear liens and other claims, and acquire group parcels in a strategic manner in an effort to facilitate development opportunities.

"Mayor Nutter and Council are committed to adding a land bank to the tools for addressing our vacant property system," said Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, in a press release. "The many Philadelphia advocates who support a land bank are excited to exchange ideas and strategies with their colleagues from across the country to make that goal a reality."
The conference will feature 50 sessions on topics such as land banking, tax foreclosure, brownfields, code enforcement, market-smart revitalization, data and technology innovations, green infrastructure and green reuse strategies.
Source:  John Carpenter, Deputy Executive Director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority; Rick Sauer, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Pearl Street Block Party celebrates transformation in Chinatown North

It was barely four months ago that Flying Kite spoke with the folks at the Asian Arts Initiative (AAI) about their plans to revitalize four blocks of Pearl Street, an alleyway that runs from Broad to 10th Street, just north of Vine. At the time few details were finalized, but come September 28, AAI is throwing the first ever Pearl Street Block Party, taking the first steps towards making their vision a reality.

Over the coming years, AAI hopes to transform the forgotten alley into a dynamic public space featuring public art, lighting improvements and multi-sensory programmed activities. Green features will also be included, with the hope of eventually connecting Pearl Street to the long-envisioned Reading Viaduct project.

Billed as a free all-day neighborhood arts festival, the party will center around two main events. First, Oakland-based landscape architect and artist Walter Hood will lead attendees in a community furniture build (2 - 5 p.m.). The resulting tables and chairs will then serve as furniture for a community feast (5 p.m.). (Advance registration is required for the community feast; email [email protected] to register). 

The day will also feature live music, performances, food and a huge array of art vendors; many of the participating artists work through the AAI's artists-in-residence program.

"The Pearl Street Block Party is not only a celebration of the diversity and richness of creative activity that is constantly happening in our neighborhood, but also an opportunity for Philadelphians to participate in all kinds of interactive art-making," explains AAI Executive Director Gayle Isa in a press release. "We come to work every day knowing that we're part of one of the most dynamic neighborhoods in Philadelphia, and we're excited to show off why on September 28."

Pearl Street Block Party, Sat., Sept. 28, 2-5 p.m., 1200 block of Pearl Street (enter at Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St.). Click here for more information.
Source:  Gayle Isa, Executive Director, Asian Arts Initiative
WriterGreg Meckstroth

Retail following rooftops at two new Center City mid-rises

It’s no secret that Center City is in the midst of a major residential construction boom. Two of the projects -- The Granary and The Sansom -- were built by Jim Pearlstein's Pearl Properties and designed by DAS Architects; combined, they have brought 331 apartments to Center City in the past month. Both developments also boast street-level retail, a must-have in a contemporary infill project. As the residents move into their new apartments, so do the retail tenants.
First up is The Sansom, a project known for its urban ethos -- the development contains no off-street parking for cars but plenty for bikes. The first floor commercial space is already fully leased. Medium Rare, a steak frites-focused import from Washington, D.C., is currently under contruction. Joining Medium Rare is Adolf Biecker Salon and Spa.

Meanwhile, up at The Granary near Fairmount, award-winning local chef Marc Vetri is opening Pizzeria Vetri. The restaurant will serve up pizzas (similar to those at his famed Osteria) and will offer beer, salads and other casual Italian staples.

The latest tenant is Pennsylvania's first Unleashed by Petco, an urban-sized big box store providing everyday pet essentials and a wide-variety of natural, organic and raw food selections.

In addition to pleasing pet lovers, Petco hopes to make an impact on the community as well.
"The team will host numerous community gatherings throughout the year for the Granary's shelter pets to find forever homes," explains explains Lydia Bakit with West Public Relations. Unleashed is expected to open in September, as is Adolf Bieker and Pizzeria Vetri. Medium Rare should open later this fall.
Source:  Lydia Bakit, West Public Relations
WriterGreg Meckstroth

High-rise development spikes in Logan Square

At 20th and Market Streets, in the heart of Center City's business district and just south of Logan Square, Brandywine Realty is poised to break ground on a 28-story 278-unit apartment tower. Meanwhile, at 23rd and Race Streets, a parking lot will become Edgewater II, a 22-story 240-rental unit tower. These projects are the latest in an ongoing high-rise construction boom in Logan Square that should bring an injection of residents and an increase in density. According to the folks with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), this is all according to plan.

On July 16, the neighborhood association heard proposals for three more projects within Logan Square. The first, Museum Towers II, will be built at 18th and Hamilton Streets, just north of Baldwin Park. Developer Forest City is looking to build 270 residential units in a 16-story tower, along with 16 two-story townhomes. 
The second proposal is from Cross Properties. They hope to develop an 11-story building with 250 apartments at 2100 Hamilton Street behind the Rodin Museum. The third proposal -- 339 apartments in two buildings at Broad and Callowhill -- was made by Hanover Properties and the Parkway Corporation.
Since then, details for the much-anticipated Rodin Square development have also been released. That project features 293 residential units in two 10-story towers above a 60,000-square-foot Whole Foods store at 20th and Callowhill, replacing a run-down Best Western Hotel.
Considering that all of these projects are within a few short blocks of each other -- and that they will all bring new residents, parking demands and retail needs -- it's clear that Logan Square is about to go through quite the growth spurt.
“We live in a hot area for development,” says Ed Panek with LSNA. “We are making sure new development abides by the neighborhood plan.”
That plan, completed in 2009, laid out a vision for the neighborhood that preserved its character while allowing for appropriate infill development.
"There is a lot of density to give here; a lot of empty lots," adds Panek. "We're excited for the [proposed] new developments in Logan Square."

Source:  David Searles, Ed Panek, Logan Square Neighborhood Association
WriterGreg Meckstroth
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