South Philly Substation to Become 21 Apartments + Commercial Space

538 Federal Street - PECO Substation
538 Federal Street – PECO Substation

There’s a really cool old building that had been on and off the market for the last several years just south of Washington Avenue at 6th and Federal Streets. The structure at 538 Federal Street is a former substation that was built in 1930 for the Philadelphia Electric Company – now better known as PECO.

There have been multiple attempts to develop this property over the years. Back in 2008, the owners pursued a variance to turn the structure into 16 apartments but later withdrew the application before the zoning hearing. Then, in 2012, a use permit was issued for an 11-unit adaptive reuse project. Nothing ever came of those two plans and the building has continued to sit vacant as the neighborhood has developed around it.

538 federal street adaptive reuse
New adaptive reuse plan for 538 Federal Street – Elevation Drawing

It looks like something may finally happen at this site, though. The property traded hands in July of 2021 and then a zoning permit was issued last week for the adaptive reuse of the building. The permit calls for a 2-story addition to the 1-story section of the building. When completed, the structure will hold 21 apartments and 4 artist loft spaces within 2,355 square feet of commercial space. The development team is utilizing the moderate income bonus and the green roof bonus for additional residential density. The developers should contribute just under $260,000 to the housing trust fund in exchange the 3 units they gain from the moderate income bonus. This project can proceed by-right as the parcel is zoned CMX-2.

We’re excited to see this building shine again, this prominent corner activated, and 21 additional residential units added to an area that is experiencing increasing rental rates due to a lack of housing supply. It’s also great that nearly $260,000 will be added to the city’s fund for building and restoring affordable homes in Philadelphia.

How do you feel about this project? Are you happy to see this former substation adaptively reused? There’s an almost identical building at American Street and Susquehanna Avenue. Do you know of any other similar structures in the city?

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