It’s a good time to own surface parking lots in greater Center City. As real estate values climb skyward, these vestiges of the city’s formerly moribund market have become hot commodities — and now, another one of them is headed for transformation.
The lot at 5th and Bainbridge streets in the South Street Headhouse District is slated to become a seven-story mixed-use development anchored by a big name retailer that appears to have fallen in love with Philadelphia.
“The only thing I can say is that it has a big sign with a red bull’s eye. I just can’t say the name for confidentiality reasons,” said Harvey Spear, owner-developer of the property, describing a store that sounds a lot like Target.
“The retail [tenant] will have a small food section and a pharmacy, it’s going to be a great asset for the neighborhood,” he said.
In addition to the 20,000-square-foot store, the $35 million development will include at least 50 luxury apartments and a 152-space parking garage, said Spear, whose family has owned parking facilities in Center City for generations under the banner of E-Z Park.
Rumors have been circulating for over a year that Spear was courting Trader Joe’s for the location, but he says that deal fell through.
“In the end, it’s better for the neighborhood that Trader Joe’s isn’t involved because they required a lot more parking,” said Spear. “I think it’s also because this is a city store and they needed really large trucks to come in here. So they are still looking for another location, but they didn’t tell us where.”
Target, meanwhile is building fast and furious in Philadelphia. The location will be its seventh announced small-format location in the city limits with one under currently construction not far from 5th and Bainbridge on the corner of Washington Avenue and Broad Street. That 36,000 square-foot store, which will also operate below high-end apartments is slated to open in October. The new stores, designed to fit into compact parcels and reflect urban shopping habits, are part of the chain’s aggressive national move into revitalizing city centers.
The chain also operates a traditional big-box location on Mifflin Street in Pennsport.
The Headhouse District lot is situated between Passyunk Avenue and Leithgow Street, kittycorner to Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, just a stone’s throw from South Street and Queen Village’s well-tended rowhome blocks.
The lot currently covers more than 23,100 square feet and is zoned CMX-3, a dense commercial category designed to encourage mixed-use development. With that zoning in place, Spear will need only one zoning variance, to allow the building to cover the full expanse of the lot, without any setbacks. Neighborhood representatives haven’t yet weighed in with an opinion on the project.
“It’s one of the last developable sites in the South Street Headhouse District,” says Mike Harris, executive director of the district. “We’ve seen a lot of surface parking lots converted to townhomes or commercial mixed use. I know they’ve been looking at it for a while trying to figure out what would be the best to put in there.”
Spear said the exact number of apartments in the development hasn’t yet been set in stone and will depend on the size of the units Originally, he planned to put condos on the site but it was easier to secure financing for rentals. The neighborhood’s highly rated public elementary school, Meredith, is another factor shaping the project’s residential portion.
“In this neighborhood, in particular, we are going to building larger apartments,” said Spear. “It’s in a catchment [Meredith] that most people want to be in, so there’s a real demand for apartments for people who have children.”
The garage parking will triple the number of spaces from the 52 that exist there now. No parking will be reserved for residents, but anyone will be able to rent spaces by the month. Spear said that decision is based on his experience running the rental company Centra Associates, which owns 35 brownstone apartment buildings in Center City.
“They don’t get parking and there isn’t really a demand for apartments with parking, believe it or not,” said Spear. “If I were to guess maybe 20 will need spaces, and it will be available if they want it. Or for the public, if they want it.”
The Spear family’s ties to the area run deep and several generations of the family still live in the area. Their parking empire began on 3rd and Bainbridge, a site that has also been converted to housing with public parking on the ground floor.
“That’s one of the reasons we are putting parking here, its sentimental to us,” says Spear.
Spear told PlanPhilly that development agreements are pending for four of E-Z Park’s other 18 lots. Among the concrete yards under development is a large Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority-owned parcel in Chinatown, and another on Front Street just north of Chestnut, he said.
A community meeting about the Bainbridge Street project, held by South Street Headhouse District, will be held on Wednesday at 3:30 at 327 South Street.