Old Schmidt’s Brewery site
Grasso’s 1601 Vine site
By Thomas J. Walsh
Despite the worldwide credit market meltdown that has affected loans on everything from studio apartments to billion-dollar skyscrapers, two Philadelphia developers are confident they’ll have financing in place soon and be moving earth by New Year’s.
At Tuesday’s special session of the city Planning Commission, David Grasso and Bart Blatstein gave separate “information-only” presentations of large-scale, mixed use developments that have been in the works for years – at 16th and Vine and at 2nd and Girard, respectively.
Grasso’s 1601 Vine project is awaiting confirmation of financing (to come partially through the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System pension fund), and is seeking city subsidies through City Council. Otherwise, “We’re probably the most ready-to-go deal in the city,” Grasso said. “We are fully entitled, we have our zoning,” and we’re “proud and pleased to come here and share this with you. We are very anxious to get it in the ground.”
Grasso’s 1 million square-foot project would fill in a 2.1-acre parking lot between 16th and 17th streets, on Vine Street’s north side, in the Franklintown redevelopment area that never quite came together. “This project takes a large step forward to completing and fulfilling the Franklintown” goals, Grasso said, “making it … a true part of Center City.”
Grasso told the commissioners that his tenants are signed and ready to go. They include a 60,000 square-foot Whole Foods, with an entrance at 16th and Vine and two levels of underground parking devoted to the upscale supermarket. Above it will be a Best Buy electronics store, in additional to more retail and more parking above the Best Buy.
Plans also call for a hotel/apartment tower flying the Intercontinental Hotel flag with 350 guestrooms, a 7,500 square-foot ballroom and a 3,000 square-foot “junior ballroom” that will cater to the business traveler. Grasso emphasized that his would not be a convention center hotel. “It will also have a 15,000 square-foot executive conference center,” Grasso said, “which we feel there is a large need for in Philadelphia.”
Operated by the hotel but set apart from it, Grasso said an important part of the development was a “destination restaurant,” a key component of his goal to sew the site onto the hem of what is now considered the northern boundary of Center City.
Grasso claims that the development will generate $15 million a year in incremental tax revenue for the city, in addition to some 700 permanent jobs and 300 construction jobs.
Both developers stressed that they have gained the support of neighborhood groups – the influential Logan Square Neighborhood Association for Grasso, and the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association for Blatstein.
Blatstein let his architect and his lawyer explain his project, which would transform the tract of land fronted at 2nd Street and Girard Avenue, site of the former Schmidt’s Brewery. A large grocery store would be the main retailer there.
The plan includes 110,000 square feet of retail and residential units in four buildings – two towers (26 and 16 stories high) and two four-story structures. The towers will be located in the middle of the development with a buffer of 150 to 200 feet from existing residential buildings, according to architect Maxwell Pau.
Unlike Grasso, Blatstein said his tenants were not yet inked, but that leases could be signed “within days.” Also unlike Grasso, Blatstein said his financing is firm and in place, though he did not provide specifics.
“Every project that we have done has been with the blessing of the community,” said Blatstein, who said he’s been in the neighborhood talking with residents for more than eight years now.
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