Onion Flats selected as developer for East Falls Rivage site

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority has selected Northern Liberties-based Onion Flats to redevelop the Rivage property near Kelly Drive in East Falls.

It’s called The Ridge, and features 126 residential units, 8,700 square feet of retail space and an ambitious energy and sustainability plan, with a striking design meant to create a sense of unity with the nearby Schuylkill riverfront. It would be the largest residential development by far for Onion Flats, known for the Rag Flats and Thin Flats projects.

The redevelopment board selected Onion Flats at its meeting Monday, and officials praised the plan as a groundbreaking concept that will introduce a focus on lifestyles both transit- and environmentally-friendly.

In a statement, PRA Executive Director Ed Covington said Onion Flats’ proposal “will create a spectacular gateway to East Falls. The sustainability features will place “The Ridge” on the cutting edge of development, not just in Philadelphia but nationally.”

Onion Flats president Tim McDonald told NewsWorks he is excited at the prospect of taking on the East Falls property, which sits at a high-profile intersection between Ridge Avenue and Kelly Drive. McDonald has said Onion Flats’ structure — it’s a group of companies, each handling different aspects from design to pre-fabricated construction — would make them more likely to see the plan to fruition.

The other submitted proposal for the Rivage spot came from FCP-East Village PA, which included members of the last group of would-be redevelopers for the site. In 2007, David Stubbs and Brian Davis had proposed East Village, a retail-residential project, but the deal fell apart after the parties couldn’t settle on a final land value.

Onion Flats had community support, both at a public meeting where the two groups detailed their plans and in an evaluation by the East Falls Development Corporation. In a Nov. 17 memo, EFDC executive director Gina Snyder expressed concern with East Village’s financing structure, and noted the community’s support of Onion Flats.  

Yesterday, Snyder called the Onion Flats plan “cool” and noted the community’s enthusiasm for the plan.

“You can see that there was a lot of excitement around Onion Flats,” she said. “Our observation about Onion Flats were that [their plan] appeared more feasible.”

All energy for utilities including heating, cooling, light and home hot water will be generated on site, with green roofs and a solar panel array. The plan is pointedly geared against the car-dependent: There are fewer parking spots than housing units, but indoor bike storage for every resident, along with electric vehicle charging ports and spaces for Zip Cars. Along Kelly Drive, a public terrace space is designed to draw walkers, bikers and other foot traffic up into the neighborhood.

Onion Flats now has until June to enter into a full redevelopment agreement, which will include a final sales price for the city-owned property. Construction could begin in early 2013, with completion in spring 2014.

It’s often difficult to predict exactly how a neighborhood will embrace even the most attractive projects, as they make their way through the approvals process. Onion Flats will need several zoning variances for The Ridge, most notably for the height of the five-story complex. But from the community’s perspective, it looks like they’ll have a smooth time.

“People have been waiting for this project to happen for years, so I don’t think there’s really a hard sell left,” Snyder said.

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at

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