DiCicco nixes electronic sign for Old City hotel

The Old City Civic Association and an anti-blight advocacy group won a victory in City Council Thursday, when Councilman Frank DiCicco amended a bill designed to allow construction of a hotel at 4th and Race streets.

The initial bill would have permitted developer Bob Ambrosi, of Arc Properties, to put a large electronic sign on the proposed hotel at 401 Race St. facing the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Ambrosi had argued that the sign was crucial to market the 124-room hotel and accompanying entertainment center to motorists and wouldn’t have been visible by residents and pedestrians in Old City.

But his attorney, Ronald Patterson, conceded at the Council session that “we are unable to prove” that fact and Ambrosi was going along with the amendment.

Both the anti-blight group SCRUB and the local chapter of the AAA were against the sign, with the AAA arguing that it would cause a dangerous distraction to drivers on the bridge.

Though the civic association was pleased with the amendment, vice chairman Joe Schiavo again called on Council to further amend the bill to avoid granting approval to a 35,000 square foot retail space that would accompany development of the hotel.

The civic association wants Ambrosi to get approval for that part of the project through the Zoning Board of Adjustment and is concerned that the bill would allow a noisy nightclub to disrupt the quiet neighborhood.

Patterson, for his part, said that Arc Properties was circulating a draft agreement with the neighborhood that he said would allay residents’ concerns. He asked DiCicco or another resident group to sign the agreement if the civic association refuses to.

Though some community members decided to hold off on their comments until the bill is again brought back before Council, those who did speak were mostly unconvinced by Patterson’s assurances. David Bajohr, president of the Old City Place Condo Association, said his group voted to oppose the bill on the grounds that Arc’s proposal for the entertainment space “makes it hard to understand the true usage.”

He decried the lack of a “governance plan” to mitigate the influx of people and traffic that the venue could bring to the neighborhood and voiced concerns that the project would eliminate parking for residents.

Richard Thom, who owns a business on Race Street near 2nd Street, helped write the Old City Overlay that governs zoning for the neighborhood. He expressed concern that the bill would represent “spot rezoning” that could damage the neighborhood.

The hotel did garner support from the Old City District, which represents area businesses and neighborhood associations. Executive director Graham Copeland said the hotel and entertainment venue would be “good for the local economy” and will attract travelers with “high disposable incomes” to the neighborhood.

Barring further amendments, the bill could be brought back before Council for a vote as early as Jan. 27.

Contact the reporter at acampisi@planphilly.com

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