Architectural Committee seeks clarity for Lit Brothers signs, rejects Old City project

The Historical Commission’s Architectural Committee on December 13 concluded with two cases that couldn’t have gone more differently. While Brickstone Realty’s proposal for more digital signage on the Lit Brothers building was met universal support complicated by slight disagreements. The case preceding it, of a proposed apartment building in the Old City District and on the site of one of the oldest school buildings in the city, was met with unanimous opposition.

The Lit Brothers question is a continuation of the October Architectural Committee meeting, where the real estate company presented four options for LED lighting to better delineate the entrance to the Lit Brothers building. The discount retailer Five Below recently signed on to occupy a third of the office building, largely because of the new digital signage atop the building (or so claimed Brickstone’s Mark Merlini).

The street-level frontage on Market Street today feels very unwelcoming today and to celebrate the new tenant Brickstone wants more lights and screens to open up the entranceway. Or as Merlini put it this Tuesday, “the idea is to grab people at the sidewalk and pull them into the building.”

At the December 13th meeting Merlini and his compatriots offered a narrower range of options. Both the two choices have piers clothed in LED signage, but one sports a canopy that stands 11’9 while the other is a “mid-height” canopy of an indeterminate height. (Or at least one that the team didn’t have exact measurements for on hand.) Both would have digital screens on the underside of the canopy. Both would also sport a large sign on top reading “Lit Brothers” in historic script.

Merlini stated that either height option would be fine by the company.

“The canopy isn’t anchored to the two digitally animated piers,” said Merlini.  “Our view was just like the previous canopy, ten or 15 years from now it may disappear. The technology will change, the tenant will change, so we wanted to make it completely independent of the historic fabric and structure.”
Notably, the Brickstone representatives told the Architectural Committee that they plan to maybe offer Five Below some real estate on the sign as well. That suggestion made the committee members blanche.

Opinions on the committee varied when it came to the size of the Lit Brothers sign and which height might be preferable. But skepticism grew regarding the possibility of Five Below’s brand going up in lights on Market Street, and was noted again at the conclusion of the meeting.
There were no public comments and Brickstone agreed to come back to the committee for a third round once they’d met with Five Below and could present a concrete plan instead of the variety of options still on offer this week.

The presentation of a six story building for 141-43 4th Street and 319 Cherry Street did not meet with so equanimous an Architectural Committee or so silent a public.

Stuart Rosenberg of the firm SgRA reacquainted everyone with the project. It’s the fourth time that a proposed project on the site made its way before the Historical Commission or one of its subsidiaries.

The criticism from the public was withering and voluminous. Seven different people testified against the proposal. Its overall height and number of stories came under assault as did the “jewel box” two story addition crowning the proposed structure. The proposed structure would also abut Orianna Street, which is little more than an alley.

“We’ve always felt this project especially this piece on Orianna Street just disregards the neighborhood 100 percent,” said Everett Abithol, the first to testify against the proposal.

“We really think this new architecture that would be visited on the neighborhood would be just a disaster,” said Rick Snyderman, who met with the developer on November 19—a meeting where the community offered alternative suggestions. Snyderman said those suggestions were ignored.

“We aren’t getting any compromise or discussion or meaningful changes,” he told the committee. “Even the changes the proposal the commission itself made, which was for a 4 story series of structures [were ignored].”

The remaining community members testified to the narrowness of Orianna Street—7 feet at this area, they said—and the historic significance of the site.

“As you’ve heard, the community as well as our economic development committee maintains serious reservations about the design of this project,” said Job Itzkowitz, executive director of the Old City District. “Especially the way it interacts with the community fabric.”
Itzkowitz said his neighborhood improvement district met with the developer twice and hopes to schedule an additional meeting before the end of the new year. “We respectfully suggest it is premature to consider this application while there are ongoing discussions with the community.”

The Architectural Committee quickly agreed with that assessment, denying the developer’s overture because of the height of the buildings and the broader developer’s clash with the community character. Perhaps the fifth time will be the charm.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.