16 condos could replace Painted Bride, Philly’s oldest alternative art space

In advance of a court hearing, a Philadelphia developer filed permits to build residential units with parking and a roof deck on the contested site of the Painted Bride.

The exterior of the Painted Bride building

The Painted Bride building in Old City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philadelphia developer has filed permits to build 16 condos topped by a roof deck on the site of the Painted Bride, the city’s oldest alternative art space.

The plans, filed two weeks before a final court battle over the bitterly contested development, offer the first public details of the new buildings that could replace the Old City arts center.

The permits, filed by developer Atrium Design Group, describe two semi-detached structures with 16 dwellings and an accompanying 16 parking spaces.

Blueprints provided to the Department of Licenses and Inspections show two rows of five-story duplexes. The gross square area of the proposed development is almost 54,000 square feet.

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The new buildings would share a 30-foot-wide driveway and the roof access would be limited to residential use, according to the city filing. Half would front on to Vine and the other half onto New Street.

Shimi Zakin, a developer best known for high-end residential projects in Northern Liberties, said Tuesday that some elements of the plan remain in flux. Zakin is also an architect who often designs his own buildings.

“We are revising the permit, that’s not the final version,” Zakin said, declining to comment further.

The Painted Bride has become something of an unwitting battlefield for a war over preservation, gentrification and the role of art in Philly neighborhoods.

The 50-year-old nonprofit arts organization began trying to sell its iconic 230 Vine St. HQ in 2017, recognizing it could cash in the valuable real estate to help it sustain its work supporting local artists. Zakin bought the property for $4.85 million in May.

“We see this sale as a huge influx of cash into the cultural community,”  Laurel Razka, Painted Bride’s executive director said in May. “We plan to use all of our resources to support artists and arts organizations.”

But the arts organization found itself on the defense when a coalition of neighbors, artists and preservationists organized to stop the sale and subsequent redevelopment. The activists have mobilized around a unique mosaic by Isaiah Zagar — of Magic Gardens fame — that covers the building.

Opponents of redevelopment failed to get the building historically protected in an extremely tight 2018 vote before the Historical Commission, but other hurdles remain.

The Painted Bridge is a non-profit that is attempting to divest itself of a large asset, in this case its titular building. That means it needs the approval of Pennsylvania Orphan’s Court and Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro to finalize the sale.

On Sept. 10, leaders of the Painted Bride will appear before Orphan’s Court to argue their case. On the other side will be a separate organization seeking to preserve the building in its current state.

Zakin appears to have secured the zoning permits in advance, so he will be prepared if the court case goes his way.

“They just want to be ready,” said Jonathan Stein, one of the organizers of the Coalition to Preserve Painted Bride Performance Spaces and the Zagar Murals. “What is very frightening is that if there is an approval they will move quickly to sell it and probably destroy the building and murals.”

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