By Alan Jaffe
Coming right on deadline, the owners of the historic Girard Estate Warehouses in Old City had fencing erected around the Front Street property today.
A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge had ordered the owners, 20-30 North Front Street LLC, to put up a fence along the front and rear of the properties and to seal rear entrances to the building by Oct. 25.
The owners — a partnership that includes BRP Development Corp., which is transforming the buildings into condos or apartments – face a $750,000 fine if they violate any parts of the consent agreement issued Oct. 12 by Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan.
The agreement calls for the owners to remove and preserve fallen bricks on the floors and around the properties by Nov. 8. By Nov. 29, the owners must construct framing to stabilize all the windows and doors at the properties and cover them with plywood. They must also reconstruct and stabilize the collapsing floors at 22 and 24 N. Front, and rebuild the rear walls. A suit filed by the city said the developers’ actions had directly contributed to the collapse of the rear walls.
At the site on Thursday morning, Michael Garofalo, superintendent of Clemens Construction Company, said the fencing would be erected at the front and rear of the buildings today to prevent unauthorized entry into the properties. Clemens was hired by the developer to perform the work, he said.
Most of the entrances at the rear of the building had not been sealed yet. Garofalo said that work would be completed over the next few days.
Rich Thom, chairman of the developments committee of the Old City Civic Association, said Clemens is “a first-class, major construction contractor” and “it is a positive sign that Clemens is working on this. We’re pleased that they are involved in rectifying the egregious conditions” at the site.
“But we hope that it includes sealing the buildings from all angles and all potential access sites,” Thom said. “We’re looking for the whole site to be secured properly.”
While the civic association is “very pleased that it seems like this is moving forward, the declining condo market gives us pause as to whether the project will be completed as planned,” Thom said.
Members of OCCA have been concerned that BRP Development would seek a demolition permit to raze the 19th century structures due to dangerous conditions at the site since the collapse of the rear walls in the spring.
BRP co-founder Geoff Flournoy has said his company will “restore the property to its historic integrity.” He has also said the buildings will be made into “either condos or apartments, depending on the marketplace.” The original plan had been for a luxury condo development called Old City Mercantile Condominiums.
The estate of shipping magnate Stephen Girard had built the warehouses in the late 1820s to early 1830s to store imported goods arriving at the Delaware River docks. The properties were listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 1977. The city Historical Commission classified them as “significant” resources in 2003. They are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are included in the federal government’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
In the civil suit filed against the building owners Oct. 5, the city said the buildings are “among the last remaining examples of commercial architecture from the Early Republic era.”
Alan Jaffe, a former Philadelphia Inquirer editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org