Finnegan’s Wake growth dead for now

Proposed legislation that would have abandoned a section of Bodine Street to allow for the expansion of Finnegan’s Wake, a Northern Liberties bar/catering hall, has died without a City Council vote.

The bill was proposed by outgoing First District Councilman Frank DiCicco. The bill had been on Council’s final approval agenda for weeks, but DiCicco did not call it up, in hopes that the community and Finnegan’s Wake owner Mike Driscoll could reach an understanding. That did not happen by Council’s last 2011 meeting Thursday, so DiCicco did not call it up for a vote.

“There is a tentative agreement between the committee and Finnegan’s Wake, but there was not enough time” to finalize it before the council meeting, DiCicco said. The committee in question is part of Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, which was opposed to the bill.

Under the bill that died, Bodine Street would have been stricken between Spring Garden and Green Street. Discussion now is about “relocating Bodine several feet east, allowing Finnegan’s to expand” but without losing the public street.

Finnegan’s owner Mike Driscoll also wanted “balconies on the Bodine Street side” and current talks call for the balconies to exist, “but on Spring Garden,” DiCicco said.

Because nothing was finalized in time for the last council meeting, another bill is needed, DiCicco said. “It will be up to my successor.”

That would be Mark Squilla. Squilla told PlanPhilly in a recent interview that he’s been keeping tabs on this issue, and he would not introduce legislation unless the community supports it.

NLNA President Matt Ruben said by email that negotiations with Driscoll continue, but that “any agreement we would arrive at with Finnegan’s would not include striking the street.”

DiCicco is a Democrat, and Driscoll is a City Democratic Committeeman. While DiCicco and Driscoll maintained this had nothing to do with the proposed bill, some members of the community said it at least had the appearance of a special favor. Ruben was among them.

In a recent interview, Driscoll told PlanPhilly that he anticipated an agreement in coming weeks. He did not want to detail his plans for the project, since those negotiations were continuing, but did say the portion of Bodine that the bill would have stricken would become a courtyard and public walkway, open to everyone.

According to Ruben, the plans Driscoll presented at an earlier presentation to NLNA called for a three-story open bar. Neighbors were very concerned this would result in noise and other nuisance problems, he said.  

Ruben said he understood Driscoll’s major objective to be creating an entry for catered events that did not require eventgoers to pass through the bar. He figured that was possible without the condemnation of a public street.

While the proposal would have officially taken the portion of Bodine between Spring Garden and Green streets out of the public realm, Driscoll said it has not been used by vehicles since before he converted the former casket factory into the large, colorful Finnegan’s wake.

Driving on it would be dangerous, because of poor visibility, he said.

When PlanPhilly visited the site earlier this month, a Dumpster blocked Bodine. It’s used by Finnegan’s, Driscoll said, and now also for refuse from a construction project across Bodine, on the east side – the building of the new city Democrats’ headquarters.

If Bodine moves east, it may require some of that property.

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