To say that Philadelphia is demolition-happy is an understatement. With the roaring real estate market over the last decade, we have seen developers scoop up valuable parcels and raze buildings that are centuries old. Philadelphia has not taken the necessary steps to protect our historic building stock. Only about 2% of Philadelphia’s buildings are historically protected, which is about half of the amount of our peer cities. Walk around New York City, Washington DC, Baltimore, and Boston and you will see a ton of re-purposed buildings and overbuilds. It seems like orange demo permits are more prevalent in Philadelphia than re-use projects.
Our old buildings and historic streetscape are what gives Philadelphia its charm. Visitors flock from around the world to get a glimpse into colonial and Victorian city life. We are slowly erasing those scenes.
The demolition permit at 1700 Race St. hit us harder than a game 7 winning Kawhi Leonard buzzer beater. The stately corner building stands proudly across from the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul under the shadows of modern office towers. Its intricate cornice, lintels, and bay windows welcome passersby to 19th century Philadelphia. The building has been utilized by Friends Select School, but its next use will be as a vacant lot.
In April, the owner of the building received permits to annihilate the building. The developer received additional permits at the beginning of May to consolidate the lots and construct a 17-story, 190 foot building with 28 residential units, 28 parking spots, 10 bike spaces, and ground floor retail on the 6,006 square foot CMX-4 zoned parcel.
We would usually support this project and its residential density, but do not for several reasons. We would have liked to have seen an overbuild project pursued for this property. Although an overbuild project may have been more challenging, we imagine it would have been possible. We have seen much smaller buildings and parcels in Philadelphia receive additions. We are also extremely worried that this lot will sit vacant for a long time before any development actually happens. The developer has admitted that his team is extremely early on in the planning process and has not yet secured financing. He estimates they will not break ground on the new building for 12 to 18 months. This could easily turn into years. Look at what has happened across from the Kimmel Center. Carl Dranoff demolished two beautiful buildings in early 2015 for the erection of his SLS Hotel project. South Broad St. has been graced with an empty lot and construction fencing ever since. Thankfully, the developer of 1700 Race has said that Friends Select’s lease is not yet up on the building. Maybe, plans will change before the wrecking ball meets the brick facade. However, that is wishful thinking.
Philadelphia needs to get its act together when it comes to historic preservation. We have a few local residents that have undertaken the task of protecting our buildings by getting them put on the historic registrar. However, there is no widespread or well-funded public effort to protect our city’s past. Philadelphia has to change its course as we can assure you that tourists won’t travel around the world to see a city full of stucco bay windows and corrugated metal facades.
Kyle is a commercial real estate agent at Rittenhouse Realty Advisors, a homeowner, and a real estate investor in Philadelphia. Kyle uses his extensive Philadelphia real estate market knowledge to help his clients buy and sell multifamily investment properties, development opportunities, and industrial sites.
Email Kyle@RittenhouseRealty.com if you are looking to buy or sell a property