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Mormon church to build mixed-use development across the street from temple

It’s not just a temple that the Mormon Church plans to build on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is aiming to put a mixed use development at 16th and Vine streets – across the street from the temple site at 17th and Vine.

“When you literally see a property become available across the street from the temple property, you just recognize the opportunity,” said Ahmad Corbitt, spokesman for the church, especially “given the wonderful location of the property.”

The Mormons acquired the new 90,000-square-foot parcel earlier this spring – they closed the deal on March 31.  It is now an open-air parking lot, and Philadelphia City Planning Commission Executive Director Gary Jastrzab reported to the commission at this month’s meeting that the church has the planning staff’s OK to continue to operate the lot for now.

“The Mormons will be developing an eventual mixed use development for that site, which will come back to the commission for approval,” Jastrzab said. 

The planning commission had approved another master plan of development for the site several years ago, Jastrzab said. That project, proposed by developer Grasso Holdings, was also to be a mixed-used development that included a 46-story skyscraper.

Corbitt said the deal involves the church, Grasso and Hudson Realty Capital, a New York company. The church “stepped in as the lender, and accepted a deed in lieu of payment for the property,” Corbitt said. This means the church paid off the mortgage, he said, but he would not disclose the amount.

“When the church is ready to go forward with the reuse plans, they will meet with the community, the redevelopment authority, the planning commission,” said project attorney Peter Kelsen. The mixed-use development could include residential. “It’s fair to say there are ideas that are being discussed and explored within the church,” Kelsen said.

He did not know when the designs would be ready for those discussions to begin, but thought it likely to be this year.

Corbitt had nothing to add to that description, saying that the church jumped at the chance to own this piece of property, but is focusing its time and resources on the temple.

As far as the temple project goes,  “There will be activity – planning activity – at the site shortly,” Kelsen said. Kelsen said the plans will be “shared with neighbors” before they are submitted for permits.

Corbitt said the church is still finalizing the design, working with architect Perkins + Will, which has offices in Philadelphia and New York. The design will be finished later this year, he said.

The church will be just under 70,000 square feet. Its spires will reach no higher than 209 feet  – a height which required zoning legislation that was sponsored by Councilman Darrell Clarke. Corbitt praised Clarke for the guidance his office has provided during this process, which included negotations with the city and redevelopment authority. “The RDA and the Nutter administration were very helpful to us in securing the second property as well,” Corbitt said. Both parcels owned by the church are under the RDA’s purview.

The temple will have public gardens, and it is expected to create about 1,000 jobs during construction. Corbitt said.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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