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Senator working to give old South Philly Armory more local control to make way for redevelopment

For the past few decades, a mammoth building has sat decomposing on South Broad St., in a neighborhood that has otherwise been a beacon for redevelopment. This building is the former Third Regiment Armory at Broad and Wharton, which was last used by the National Guard in the 1980s. Since that time, the building has lay relatively dormant, embroiled in a dispute between the state Department of General Services and the local Tolentine Community Center and Development Corporation. Yet, state Senator Larry Farnese is hoping to change this, and spur redevelopment of the building.

Farnese recently authored Senate Bill 1368, which calls on the state to give Tolentine more control over the Armory by removing onerous restrictions. Tony Mannino, chief of staff for Sen. Farnese, says that the state Department of General Services mandated that the Armory could only be used for community services and could not be sold. Thus, the state senator wants to see these restrictions removed.

According to Mannino, one of the main problems with the Armory is that Tolentine doesn't have the money to adequately fix it up. "The condition of the building is so bad," admits Mannino. This includes the floors on the Broad St.-side of the building, which have partially collapsed. Ostensibly, the state didn't even grasp how poor the condition of the building was. "The building is in a more deteriorated condition than the Department of General Services had previously understood it to be," Mannino adds. 

Still, Farnese's office says the building is structurally sound to the best of their knowledge. Tolentine Community Center has been working with the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections in recent years, and made substantial repairs to the Armory's roof in early 2011. 

While Farnese wants to clear a path to re-development for the Third Regiment Armory, there has yet to be a solid plan as to what the rebirth should look like. "We want a re-development consistent with good use for the community," says Mannino. Mannino offers a revelation when he says the parcel seems to be zoned R-10A, which means residential. So, parties will likely have to pursue a variance for anything else. 

Apparently, Farnese's office has only had preliminary meetings with the Passyunk Square Civic Association and South Broad Street Neighbors about the Armory so far. They're currently concentrating on getting SB 1368 passed in the state Senate and House, so thoughts of how specifically to redevelop the space will have to come later. The bottom line is, Farnese is "trying to balance the interests of the community, state, and Tolentine," says Mannino. Hopefully, this balance will lead to further re-development on S. Broad sooner rather than later. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Tony Mannino, Sen. Farnese's Office
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