An astute reader caught our error in a comment on that post. The building above is not the Tower Investments proposal for the southwest corner of 5th and Fairmount; it is, as the reader stated, an addition onto the Gen. Philip Kearny Elementary School being built at 6th and Brown streets.
The Tower Investments proposal will be erected on the site below, 626-36 N. 5th St., which we also misidentified as a vacant lot in the prior post. The structure will be demolished – most of it, that is – and replaced with ten townhomes, a project the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association signed off on last spring.
More on this project when it progresses further. We regret the error.
Solomon Jones says that while it would be nice to keep all 37 of those schools the School District of Philadelphia plans to close open, we need to get real; A new Commerce Department grant program could lead to more effective surveillance of public spaces for less money; Did you buy or sell a home between last July 1 and this past Jan. 5? If you did, and you paid the real estate transfer tax on the transaction, you may be eligible for a refund – consult a tax attorney; and Bart Blatstein prepares for his big casino bet by selling controlling interest in his Northern Liberties developments to a New York City investor group:
The staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, long leaders in their field with a proud history backing them up, have of late been on the cutting edge of another trend: worrying about their futures. As their employer, Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. owner Interstate General Media, continues to seek ways to shore up the paper’s flagging bottom line, they have gotten word from the owner that they may not have a future at all unless more wage and benefit concessions are forthcoming.
This comes not long after Interstate General Media shed one huge asset to raise revenue: the papers’ iconic headquarters at Broad and Callowhill streets, their home from 1925 until this past summer. Developer Bart Blatstein, who has designs on North Broad Street even more ambitious than the ones he had on Northern Liberties, scooped up the property and plans to make it the centerpiece of his proposed casino-hotel-shopping-entertainment complex, The Provence.
And here as elsewhere, the owners of the Inquirer and Daily News were merely at the forefront of an industry trend. Unable to convince enough advertisers or readers that their product continues to have real value worth paying for, newspaper publishers have turned to a more solid source of revenue: their real estate. A recent Bloomberg News report chronicled the growing parade of newspapers eager to capitalize on rising real estate values by turning their newsrooms into condos, shops and leasable office space.
Some properties, like The Miami Herald’s Modernist bayfront home, are slated to be razed when the sale closes; as with the Inquirer, plans call for the former Herald property to become a casino. Others, like the homes of the Des Moines Register and Providence Journal, will likely be put to new uses. And some companies may follow the lead of The New York Times, which sold its recently constructed Midtown Manhattan office building off Times Square and leased it back from its new owner, saving operating costs in the process; Des Moines Register owner Gannett Co., which has sold more than 2 million square feet of office space since 2005, may consider this option for its Tysons Corner, Va., headquarters.
The moves are no-brainers for the newspapers, who can at once capitalize on rising property values in central cities and slash expenses by taking cheaper space on the urban fringe. Or, in the case of the Inquirer and Daily News, in an underutilized property in the middle of it all.
But the path from idea to reality for the Piazza turned out to be long and involved, and Tower, like most developers, prefers to get shovels in the ground sooner rather than later. So perhaps it’s to be expected that the NLNA Zoning Committee bristled a bit when Tower representatives presented for their approval at last night’s meeting a proposal to build a 10-unit residential development on the western end of a block-long plot of land Tower owns from 5th to 6th streets on Fairmount Avenue with only architects’ plans for the structures themselves.
Those plans addressed all of the main concerns the NLNA had when Tower first presented the proposal last month. The total number of units had been cut from 12 to 10 by removing one single-family townhouse and cutting one condominium unit out of the picture, and a new off-street parking lot had been created to replace the garages that would have fronted the townhouses. The changes brought the total parking up to the 1:1 ratio the NLNA had sought and the building heights at the street line down to the 35 feet that the old zoning code had required for residential construction of this type.
And yet both committee members and neighbors were concerned over the lack of additional detail in the proposal. Where were the renderings? What about an overall site plan, since the lot Tower will carve up to build the houses on is much larger? What’s being done with the large warehouse that will remain on the site? Will the triangles of vacant land between the angled warehouse and the 6th Street-facing townhouse lots become a gathering place for trash? And can’t they move the entrance to the northernmost house around the corner to Fairmount Avenue?
The NLNA Zoning Committee is nothing if not thorough. Tower Vice President Tina Roberts explained that a tenant was being obtained for the warehouse, promised to send the NLNA complete architectural renderings, and said Tower planned to have windows on the Fairmount Avenue side of that townhouse and would consider moving the entrance.
That didn’t totally quell the grumbling in the post-presentation debate; several residents complained about the lackluster architecture of a number of other large townhouse projects recently completed in the area by Tower and others during the discussion. But the general sentiment among near and far neighbors alike was that houses should go on the 6th and Fairmount corner, and that these houses fit in with their vision in general. Thus the NLNA voted 6-1 to approve Tower’s request for variances from the Zoning Board of Adjustment with some modest provisos, including moving the entrance of the northernmost townhouse, putting quality fencing around the open space and maintaining adequate passage around street trees to be planted as part of the project. The variances are required because the land is currently zoned for light industrial use.
Tower’s project goes before the ZBA in mid-December.
Having run out of opportunities to change the game on Central Philly’s northern fringe, developer Bart Blatstein is seizing the chance to change the game at its very heart.
At a lavish news conference-cum-party last night, Blatstein took the wraps off an ambitious plan for a tourist magnet at the former home of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News at Broad and Callowhill streets in Spring Garden.
Blatstein announced that his Tower Investments will transform the building into a casino-resort called The Provence. The complex will include a 125-room luxury hotel in the Inquirer Building tower, a 120,000-square-foot casino, a rooftop shopping and dining village, a botanical garden, a theater, a private swim club, a nightclub, a comedy club, a jazz club, a spa and fitness center, and meeting and function space, along with two indoor parking garages. Hard Rock International will manage the complex. Continue reading →