Adaptive reuse project breathes new life into historic Philly department store

The development sits on Germantown Avenue in the neighborhood’s central business district.

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The exterior of Kenyon Lofts. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

The exterior of Kenyon Lofts. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

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A pair of apartment buildings with “value-oriented” rents opened this week in the heart of Germantown’s central shopping district.

Located about a block off Germantown Avenue, Kenyon Lofts has 47 units — a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units ranging in size from 500 to 1,000 square feet.

Vernon Lofts, which sits around the corner on Chelten Avenue, also has 47 units. The building is offering mostly one-, two-, three-bedroom units ranging in size from about 600 to 1,300 square feet. There is one four-bedroom unit.

The exterior of Vernon Lofts. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)
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Monthly rents for both developments are considered “attainable” for people earning 80% of the area median income, a statistic that encompasses places outside of Philadelphia. In 2022, that translated to $75,900 for a family of three.

“It’s a great neighborhood for us because of its history, because of its people, because of its thriving small business, and of course because of location. We’re just a stone’s throw from Center City,” said Philip Balderston, founder and CEO of Odin Properties, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.

Philip Balderston (third from left), founder and CEO of Odin Properties, participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

Rents at both developments are on similar footing, and sit at or near current citywide averages.

One-bedroom apartments, for example, range between $1,300 and $1,400, while two-bedroom units range between $1,600 to $1,900, depending on the size.

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“You’ve got a real demand from people who grew up here and want to stay here, and they’re looking for high-quality affordable housing,” said Balderston.

A rendering of apartment kitchen at Kenyon Lofts in Germantown. (Courtesy of Odin Properties)

Combined, the projects represent a $25 million investment in the neighborhood.

Kenyon Lofts, which also includes ground floor commercial space, was built on top of an old parking lot on East Armat Street. It is Odin Properties’ first ground-up construction project in Germantown, a neighborhood the company has invested in for more than a decade.

Vernon Lofts is an adaptive reuse project, occupying a historically-designated building once home to the C.A. Rowell Department Store — the first Black-owned department store in the country when it was purchased by Curtis Cisco in 1974.

Both projects sit near SEPTA’s Germantown Station. They’re also located near a trio of neighborhood landmarks — the former Germantown High School, the Germantown YWCA, and Germantown Town Hall — that residents desperately want to see put into productive use, in part because they believe they are damaging the viability of Germantown Avenue, one of the neighborhood’s main commercial corridors.

To Balderston, the two developments will not only provide needed housing, but help bolster the immediate neighborhood.

A rendering of a corner bedroom of an apartment at Vernon Lofts in Germantown. (Courtesy of Odin Properties)

“The more apartments you have in Germantown, especially high-quality and affordable, the more retail activity you’re gonna have on Germantown Avenue.That’s going to increase opportunities for small business and that’s gonna kind of enrich the community,” he said.

Over the last several years, Germantown has experienced increased interest from residential developers.

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