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Washington D.C.-based developer Hoffman & Associates is one of four firms vying to redevelop the 12-acre parcel of Penn’s Landing that is also being eyed by the Sixers for their new arena.
The development firm submitted a proposal to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the government-affiliated nonprofit that owns the coveted waterfront site, founder and chairman Monty Hoffman confirmed.
“Hoffman is working with a local [Philadelphia] developer Gattuso Development Partners and The Badger Group,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “We look forward to continuing to work with DRWC through this process.”
Hoffman did not address specifics of the proposal, but Billy Penn obtained details and renderings from a source close to the discussions.
This would be the D.C. firm’s first major development in Philadelphia, though they lost a bid on another large project at the Navy Yard earlier this year.
A decision on the Penn’s Landing development winner is expected this month.
DRWC requests that bidders for public land do not openly discuss their proposals prior to that decision. But the normally discrete process has nonetheless become highly public after the Inquirer broke news of the Sixers’ lobbying efforts, which included wooing building trades unions and Black legislators to get support for their $4 billion waterfront vision.
The land in question consists of two parcels near Spruce Street Harbor Park and the area for the future I-95 cap park — and is a key piece to realizing the city’s decade-old vision to unite Center City with the waterfront.
Museums, water taxis and tax breaks
The Sixers sprawling proposal extends outside the scope of the two parcels. Beyond the 19,000-seat arena, franchise owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer are pitching a supermarket, a dozen restaurants, a new public school and a new home for both the Independence Seaport Museum and African American Museum in Philadelphia.
The Hoffman & Associates plan stays within the two parcels owned by DRWC.
Renderings show at least half a dozen residential and commercial towers, replete with retail outlets, restaurants and a possible concert venue. Plans further include a partnership with Hornblower/Entertainment Cruises to “expand a robust water taxi service to the Delaware.”
As with Harris and Blitzer, Hoffman also proposes a new home for the African American Museum, something that Mayor Jim Kenney has reportedly encouraged. Renderings for the Sixers’ project have not been published yet, though they were described in detail to Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron.
Both bidders are asking for tax incentives to help ease the cost of development.
The Hoffman plan seeks a common incentive called tax-increment financing, or TIF. The model helps finance projects using future property tax revenues that would presumably be realized by new development. Those new dollars would then be used to pay down municipal bonds and private loans used to fund upfront construction costs. (After this article was published, the company said it also submitted a second proposal that would not require a TIF.)
The Sixers’ plan would be financed with a similar but far less common tax model called a Neighborhood Improvement Zone, which was used to redevelop a swath of Allentown starting in 2009. Like the other plan, it borrows against its anticipated tax revenues — but excludes property taxes, instead gambling on increased taxes on retail, alcohol, ticket sales and other revenue-generating activity on site.
Any tax incentive package would require legislative approval, regardless of who wins the bid.
Penn’s Landing bids promise people of color a stake
Prominent New York developer the Durst Organization has also submitted a proposal for the coveted 12-acre site, the Inquirer reported this week. Durst spokesperson Jordan Barowitz declined to comment on the details of that bid, citing the request for discretion.
Durst has already shown interest in the city’s waterfront. The company owns nearby piers that are home to Dave & Buster’s and Morgan’s Pier. It also acquired a parking lot just north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge for $10 million earlier this year, where it plans a 25-story residential tower with ground-floor retail space.
In the proposal, Hoffman touts its waterfront experience in D.C., where it spearheaded a mixed-use development called The Wharf. That project, which debuted in 2017 and is only half finished, has a planned 3.2 million square feet of restaurants, shopping and residences along the Potomac River.
With the bidding process now unusually public, politicians and other organizations are now weighing in with their endorsements.
The Sixers are leveraging their development plan as a stimulus for Black workers in Philadelphia. So far, the NBA arena proposal has won the support of state legislators like Pa. Sen. Vincent Hughes, and a throng of Black-led organizations including the Urban Affairs Coalition and African American Chamber of Commerce in the Philly region, though some are skeptical.
Hoffman promises 25% “minority-led” development projects at the site, and would seek to have one of the city’s first hotels owned or developed by African Americans, according to proposal documents.