Taking a fresh approach to the Rector St. rebuild project

Seven years after first trying an extensive rebuild of the old Labov Plumbing Supply building at 3 Rector St. in Manayunk, developer David Waxman is taking a low-key, green-ish approach this time around.

Water Works is an adaptive use of the bi-level 1860s structure, a cavernous 11,000 square feet of stone, with tall windows downstairs that look out onto the towpath. An anchor tenant, BRR Architecture, will move into the upstairs, and there’s room for three more tenants, Waxman said. 

Rough construction is underway inside, using materials like an environmentally-friendly spray foam insulation, and wood windows with Low-E glass. He and partner Alon Barzilay secured historic preservation tax credits and have applied for a loan through the EnergyWorks Fund.

The joint program of the city and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. offers low-interest loans of between $100,000 and $1 million for energy-efficient construction and rehab.

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Some of the building’s old features are being re-imagined, like the basement room with one foot-thick cement walls, once used for storing dynamite. In 2011, it looks like a good place for computer servers, Waxman said. Upstairs, a large round window is being uncovered and refurbished to bring in more natural light.

“We took (the building) apart to put it back together,” Waxman said. “Every single thing was redone.”

Noticeably absent in the building process at 3 Rector St. is the drama that accompanied Waxman and Barzilay’s last try here. That plan, a five-story residential complex, died a years-long death after a legal battle led by Kevin Smith, head of the Manayunk Neighborhood Council.

In 2008 — just as a judge blocked the project from going forward again — the residential market imploded, forcing Waxman and Barzilay to reconsider their options. In the meantime, Waxman’s MM Partners took up redevelopment in Brewerytown, and now have about $30 million in retail and residential projects happening along West Girard Avenue.

The Water Works site in Manayunk will likely be a one-off, he said.

“We love the location, we love the building itself,” Waxman said, with one of those everything-for-a-reason looks. For as much as the legal battle cost in attorneys’ fees, it’s still a smaller loss than a half-empty apartment building would be today.

“Ironically, (opponents) did us the biggest favor,” he said.

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