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Adaptive re-use: Center City developer looks to transform GHo church into luxury residences

Since 1889, the intersection of Grays Ferry Ave. and Fitzwater St has been graced by a church. For decades, the St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church occupied the crossroads, until the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church moved in soon after the start of this century. Yet, Greater St. Matthew recently had to sell the building, which might mark its conclusion as a place of worship. In fact, Center City developer Ben Weinraub is looking to convert the church into luxury apartments.

Weinraub, the owner of Vintage Residential Management, is keen on "adaptively re-using" the church to create one- and a few two-bedroom apartments. This means "saving the interior and exterior [of the holy place] as much as possible," he points out. One way in which Weinraub hopes to do this is by carving a patio out of the roof and parapits. He also seeks to utilize the former church's tower as an overlook space, although that would depend on the fire code. 

The building is comprised of two facilities, which are the erstwhile sanctuary and rectory of the church. The developer is proposing 29 apartments to be built where the sanctuary used to stand and eight apartments where the rectory was housed. Weinraub is currently hoping to get a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for converting the sanctuary into apartments. 

The developer is passionate about maintaining the character of the holy place. He endeavors to use a great deal of stone in constructing the apartments, and hopes to create wrought iron balconies. Weinraub is also skeptical about creating off-street parking for the units. Some neighbors have suggested he include basement parking, although that would mean he would have to significantly alter the interior of the building, thus hindering the efforts to preserve the church's character. 

In lieu of parking, Vintage Management hopes to encourage residents to bike, carshare, and walk. Weinraub hopes to invite PhillyCarShare and Zipcar to turn two of the old church's anointed parking spaces into pods. He also hopes to provide ample bike storage. In addition, the developer anticipates that many residents will be graduate students or workers in University City, meaning a relatively short pedestrian commute over the South St. Bridge.       

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Ben Weinraub, Vintage Property Management
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