Ridge Flats development ‘one step’ closer to reality

Ridge Flats, the innovative and long-awaited residential development planned in East Falls, is apparently moving forward with a stronger financial foundation. 

Grasso Holdings, which partnered with the developer Onion Flats, purchased the property on the 4300 block of Ridge Avenue earlier this month, according to Gina Snyder, executive director of the East Falls Development Corporation.

“That was awesome. They got enough to purchase the building,” Snyder said. “I don’t know if they have the entire financing package to go forward, but it should mean it will be easier to get the funding.”

Grasso Holdings, which did not return requests for comment, had become the managing partner on Ridge Flats to secure the equity and debt for the project, Snyder said.

“We see this as moving one step closer,” Snyder said. “We’re not celebrating yet — we’ll wait until the shovel is in the ground. But we’re optimistic, and we’re doing anything we can to help them.”

Innovative plan

The property off Kelly Drive at the foot of the Falls Bridge had been the site of The Rivage Ballroom. Redevelopment of the vacant parcel has long been the goal of the East Falls community. An earlier proposal fell victim to the recession and the sagging real estate market.

In 2011, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority chose Onion Flats to build on the site. Two years later, the Zoning Board of Adjustment approved an innovative proposal by the developer for a five-story building with 140 apartments, commercial space, and a public garden.

The Ridge Flats plan was anticipated as one of the most innovative housing developments in the city, with its “net-zero energy” design. The plan called for solar panels on the roof and other features that would reduce energy use by the building.

The East Falls Development Corporation and the Community Council both embraced the project. Construction was scheduled to start in early 2014.

But financing apparently stalled, and the shovels never arrived.

Some modifications

Snyder said the plan for Ridge Flats remains basically the same. She said Tim McDonald, a founder of Onion Flats, still plans 149 residential units, but the design will be altered.

Rather than a single-loaded layout with exterior entrances to the units on one side, the building probably will have a double-loaded corridor, with interior entrances on either side. “It doesn’t change the project, but it makes it more feasible to build,” Snyder said.

Representatives of Onion Flats did not respond to calls for comment on the project.

Barnaby Wittels, president of the East Falls Community Council, has heard that Grasso Holdings is taking the lead on Ridge Flats and that there will be changes for the project. There have been no recent meetings between the Council and Grasso or Onion Flats, Wittels said.

Parking for the building has always been a concern, and Wittels said PennDOT has raised questions about the placement of a driveway near the heavily traveled Kelly Drive.

“We have heard discussion about increasing the building by a floor and putting parking underneath it,” Wittels said.

“They will have to reconfigure things and come back to us. Which is fine – that does happen in development.”

“Things now seem to be in flux. We hope it goes forward,” he said.

PlanPhilly is now a project of WHYY/NewsWorks. It began in 2006 as an initiative of Penn Praxis inside the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. Though now part of WHYY, PlanPhilly still works closely with Penn Praxis in covering planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at ajaffe@planphilly.com.


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