‘Sometimes you just get tired’: City releases RFP to redevelop troubled Logan Triangle

A developer walked away from the project after spending nearly a decade trying to breathe new life into the site.

an empty lot filled with grass

The 35-acre North Philadelphia lot known as the Logan Triangle, between the Roosevelt Boulevard and Louden Street, from 6th to 11th Streets. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The city is again trying to sell the Logan Triangle, an infamous 35-acre slice of North Philadelphia that’s sat undeveloped for decades.

The sprawling city-owned site — bounded by Louden Street, 6th Street, Roosevelt Boulevard, and 11th Street — was once home to nearly 1,000 homes. In the late 1980s, the city began demolishing them because the properties were sinking into the unstable soil beneath them and had been for decades, so much so that the front steps of some houses were higher than their front porches.

Fast forward, and the grassy lots comprising the triangle remain an eyesore despite several planning studies, countless community meetings, and at least three development proposals from high-profile companies, including Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments.

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In 2015, the Goldenberg Group inked a deal with the city to redevelop the troubled site. But the developer’s plan, a basketball recreation center with a library and computer lab, fizzled out — leading the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation to announce a new request for proposal this week.

A spokesperson for Goldenberg did not return multiple requests for comment.

‘A special kind of developer’

The Logan Triangle is zoned CMX-3, which allows for commercial mixed-use developments of up to five stories. Single-family homes are prohibited. Apartments are not.

The request for proposal, or RFP, released by PHDC does not specify what should be built. The city does want proposals to be “beneficial for the community” and have “strong urbanism and architecture,” according to the 16-page document.

It also encourages developers to consider the goals and recommendations detailed in the Logan Neighborhood Plan, completed a few years after the city secured control of the vacant lots through eminent domain.

The plan, which covers blocks beyond the triangle, calls for investing in affordable housing, streetscape improvements, building neighborhood pride, and transforming the triangle into a community asset with regional impact, among other goals.

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The deadline to submit a bid is January 11, 2024. The city hopes to select a developer the following month, but it could be years before the site is put into productive use.

“I’m committed to making sure that a quality development that falls in line with what the community wants is in place at that site,” said City Councilmember Cindy Bass, whose district contains the triangle.

The triangle may not be an easy sell.

As it stands today, only about half of the Logan Triangle is suitable for redevelopment. The center of the site is particularly unstable.

That means interested developers would likely need to remediate the land before starting construction.

There is no public funding attached to the RFP to help cover that upfront cost, requiring applicants to line up those dollars before submitting their bid. That price tag, expected to be in the millions, would be on top of any private construction loans a developer takes out to complete the project.

Developers would also need a zoning variance if they want to build something larger than what regulations permit, a process that requires approval from either City Council or the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Wait and see

Mohamed Rushdy, managing partner of the Riverwards Group and vice president of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia, said it will take a “special kind of developer” to write the triangle’s next chapter.

“I think you’re gonna get responses, but I don’t think you’re gonna get a dozen responses,” said Rushdy of the RFP process.

The homes that once populated the Logan Triangle were built in the 1920s on top of a creek bed filled with ash and cinder. In the following decades, the mixture behaved like slow-moving quicksand, causing the homes to sink.

In 1986, a massive gas main explosion on Valentine’s Day revealed just how bad things had gotten. By the following year, the city started condemning properties and offering buyouts to residents of the Logan Triangle on a volunteer basis. A nonprofit, the Logan Assistance Corporation, was set up for the sole purpose of overseeing the process.

The work was projected to take three years. In the end, it took the better part of two decades, with the last family moving out around 2003.

The city rejected two development proposals before Goldenberg took on the project in 2015.

Neighbors learned in May that the company was walking away from the project.

Charlene Samuels, chairperson for the Logan Civic Association, said members of the development team told residents the company had struggled to secure enough funding.

There was little outrage — just disappointment over another setback.

“Sometimes you just get tired,” said Samuels.

Longtime resident Ernie Bristow said she remains optimistic that the triangle will see a new day. But the new RFP is just a piece of paper to her right now.

“It’s smoke and mirrors,” Bristow said. “Until we see them breaking ground, I don’t believe it.”

Samuels is of the same mind.

“I’m just gonna wait. I’m gonna sit back and wait,” said Samuels.

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