Construction at Ridge Flats site expected to begin this winter

 (NewsWorks file)

(NewsWorks file)

After delays, plans for a major development in East Falls are moving forward, with work expected to begin this winter.

As reported by NewsWorks, plans are in place for a mixed-use apartment complex at the former Rivage site in East Falls, to be built on an empty site at the intersection of Ridge Avenue and Calumet Street near the Falls Bridge.

At present, 123 apartments and several small retail spaces are slated for the 1.7-acre site at Calumet Street.

According to Gina Snyder, executive director of the East Falls Development Corporation, construction will commence on the Ridge Flats project in late 2013 or early 2014. Work on the site is expected to take approximately a year.

With a main U-shaped building envisioned along with a smaller free-standing strip of apartments in the middle, one, two, and three-bedroom units are included, with the largest at about 1,200 square feet. Nine thousand square feet of retail space is planned.

Parking for residents stands at 139 spaces, with an additional 16 new spaces for retail customers created on the street.

HUD financing still in the works 

A previous attempt at redevelopment fell through after complications in the financing process, so many have been curious about whether Ridge Flats will come to fruition. In 2012, project leaders hoped to get some financing through a federal department of Housing and Urban Development program meant for multi-family, mixed-use developments in urban centers.

In February, Snyder told NewsWorks that the developers were still in the process of piecing together the financing package for the project. At the time, she expected a zoning application would be presented within the next three months to begin construction.

Since then, Onion Flats has teamed up with a joint-venture partner in order to provide capital for the project. Snyder said that the HUD financing is still being pursued, but as it is a market-rate loan, equity is needed in order to secure the needed financial resources.

She added that a juried event to create an original permanent work of art at Ridge Flats, announced last year under the aegis of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Percent for Art Program, is still in the final selection process.

At a meeting of the East Falls Community Council held on Monday, Snyder championed the eco-friendly aspects of the project, which center around the building’s “net-zero” energy usage.

“It will probably be the greenest building in the city,” she suggested.

While much of the fabrication of the building units will take place at Onion Flats’ factory in Pottstown – greatly reducing neighborhood disruption – demolition, foundation work, and assembly will still need to take place at the site.

Community input 

Referencing previous community-based input, Snyder said that a lot of community design controls are already in the design process.

“The community put a lot into what this project would look like,” she said, noting that the developer would be footing the bill for various neighborhood improvements, such as the additional parking along Ridge Avenue.

Additional input will be solicited at an upcoming meeting of the zoning committee of the EFCC, to be held on June 19. Zoning Committee chairman Bill Epstein said on Monday that he anticipated the meeting to be “informational,” and that any vote to approve plans would take place at a later date.

Snyder voiced concern with this statement, noting that Onion Flats would be sending the EFCC’s zoning board project details under the city’s 45-day timeline for review and input. She expressed a desire for the project to continue to move forward and meet target deadlines.

In response, EFCC President Barnaby Wittels said that the EFCC would likely undertake a two-step review process.

“This is a big project,” said Wittels, “and we want it developed and we want it to go well.”

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