Star: Turning old Tasty site into retail hub

Star: Turning old Tasty site into retail hub

The sign, undoubtedly recognizable to Philadelphians, can still be seen looming high above the Hunting Park Avenue site.

But the business that manufactured tasty treats for city residents and beyond for almost a century will soon vacate the property.

Last month, it was announced that Tasty Baking Co., which is in the midst of transitioning to its new headquarters at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, had sold its manufacturing plant at 2801 Hunting Park Ave., and its corporate offices and distribution center at 3413 Fox St., to Metro Development Co. for $6 million.

Metro Development, a subsidiary of U.S. Realty, plans to develop a retail hub traversing both properties, the large swath envisioned to have a chain supermarket and other retail offerings. The move, company executives say, should be a boon to the local economy, providing jobs and attracting commerce.

“Our interest here has really been committed to all different … retail (opportunities),” U.S. Realty Vice President Gregory Bianchi said during a visit to the Hunting Park Avenue facility April 29.

Bianchi said it would premature to name the grocery outlet expected to be brought onboard, although he noted other stores that may make the site home could involve sporting goods retailers and apparel-related businesses.

“It’s definitely going to be grocery anchored,” he said.

Interest in the site coincided with an ongoing strategic planning process undertaken by city officials and other interested parties in the area known as Hunting Park West. In addition to the Tastykake site, the study area includes the former Budd manufacturing plan and other vacant industrial parcels that remain zoned for such a use.

The study also includes the site of the former Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, which currently houses the temporary Youth Study Center as it awaits relocation to its permanent home being constructed in West Philadelphia. The center was previously located in the Art Museum Area, but vacated the property to make way for the incoming Barnes Foundation, being relocated from Merion.

The Tasty Baking Co. site straddles East Falls and Allegheny West, but other neighborhoods and civic groups in and around the site also have taken an interest in its future. Bianchi said his firm has kept abreast of the goings-on involving the site, and the strategic planning process in general, and has interacted with some neighbors.

“It’s really a nice mixture of the community that’s giving their input,” he said. “We’ve interacted with the community … but we haven’t formally come to the community directly,” with detailed plans.

Bianchi said the plan as of now is to keep the existing manufacturing building on Hunting Park Avenue intact, since demolition would have been a costly endeavor. Many developers today are opting to retrofit existing buildings, he noted.

Current plans call for more than 400,000 square feet of retail space between the two sites. Bianchi said his group has received calls from schools and other “educational-related” groups who have also expressed interest in leasing space, but nothing has been set in stone.

One thing that attracted his company to the site, Bianchi said, was the existing traffic light at Hunting Park Avenue and Westmoreland Street, since developers often have to agree to such measures in cases where ingress and egress are integral to a project.

The nearby Fox Street portion of the property also has a convenient traffic setup.

According to a U.S. Realty news release, Metro Development is currently creating a site plan and preliminary land development documents to begin development on the first phase of the 20-acre, $30 million project. The first phase comprises the grocery component. The second phase would involve the construction of big-box stores and related shops.

Construction could begin in late fall pending city approval. A zoning change would need to be sought as part of the planning process.

Bianchi said Metro Development has developed more than 12 million square feet of leasable commercial space in the five-county region, most of it retail-centered.

“We’re pretty multi-faceted as a group,” he said of the family-run company.

In a Tasty Baking Co. news release, president Charles Pizzi stated his company is pleased to see Metro Development “developing the site into a retail center to serve the surrounding area. We believe this will create jobs and improve the overall quality of life in the community. This transaction will be a win-win for everyone involved and we are very pleased about that.”

Matt McClure echoed Pizzi’s sentiment. McClure, who chairs the East Falls Development Corporation’s board of directors, said he’s glad to see some exciting things planned for an area that could use an economic boost.

“It’s really a phenomenal opportunity to make something that was once an institutional corridor,” into something beneficial to modern-day residents, he said in a phone interview. “You have to laud anyone for investing that sort of money in these times.”

McClure, who by day works as an attorney for the Ballard Spahr law firm, said he’s particularly attracted to what’s planned to be the main draw of the planned retail project.

“I think there is a demonstrated need in East Falls and in Ridge Allegheny-Hunting Park for a supermarket,” he said. “Having some sort of a retail use like that in this area is something I think that most folks in the community would definitely support and is important for the economic transformation of the industrial corridor.”

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