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Onion Flats hopes to connect the Schuylkill Trail with East Falls through mixed-use development

Onion Flats is looking to capitalize on East Falls' proximity to the Schuylkill River Trail and Fairmount Park by redeveloping the former Rivage catering hall between Kelly Dr. and Ridge Ave. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority just gave Onion Flats the go-ahead to design a sustainable residential and retail complex called The Ridge. Given the property's accessibility and visibility by bike, bus, and car, there's considerable buzz surrounding this redevelopment in East Falls.

The Norris Square-based developer proposes a 5-story 128,440 sq. ft. development for The Ridge. According to Tim McDonald, president of Onion Flats, this will consist of 126 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 8,700 sq. ft. of retail space. McDonald gives some hints as to what kind of retail will be included by saying "ours will be small-scale retail, cafe, restaurant, etc." He adds that The Ridge has the potential to be a retail "gateway" into East Falls, and a complement to existing businesses on Ridge Ave.

Like their previous development in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, including Rag Flats, Jack Hammer, and Thin Flats, sustainability is going to be a distinguishing feature of The Ridge. McDonald hopes the East Falls development will "become Philadelphia's first Passive House Certified and Net-Zero-Energy mixed-use residential/retail community as well as the country's largest." In simpler language, this means all energy needed for water, HVAC, and lighting will be produced locally using solar energy. Onion Flats also aims to emit net zero carbon dioxide at The Ridge.

As it is proposed, The Ridge will also live and die off of a sense of community. In this vein, McDonald doesn't want to see any in-door hallways, but instead out-door passageways that facilitate interaction between neighbors. Also, the second level of The Ridge is modeled to include a community garden space, which will be visible on upper floors through public viewing spaces. For residents, this community garden will act as a doormat, as the second floor is proposed as the main residential entrance. 

The redevelopment of the Rivage by Onion Flats appears to have the initial blessing of East Falls community groups. Unlike previous controversial proposals involving the police department's Special Victims Unit and a high school for troubled youth, neighborhood groups seem to see The Ridge as a development meant to foster community and put an exclamation point on East Falls' propinquity to Fairmount Park. This is not to say that every element of McDonald's plan will meet with community approval, but in general local residents are excited about the redevelopment. 

The Redevelopment Authority's decision to choose Onion Flats for the Rivage property is just the start of an extended process that includes "community meetings, building permits, closing on financing," and other aspects, says McDonald. Should neighborhood groups offer an endorsement, McDonald expects groundbreaking to commence in early 2013. He expects to offer a final design in six months, including all the sustainability and community elements that have so far been proposed. 

Source: Tim McDonald, Onion Flats
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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