Seeing where buildings are going up (or coming down) and where construction is moving ahead (or isn’t) provides a window into the distribution of resources and interests in both public and private spheres. It’s the literal shape of the future.
Here are some of the projects that will garner headlines in 2023.
The Park at Penn’s Landing
Construction is set to begin at the long-awaited public space that will reconnect the Delaware River waterfront to the city street grid.
The planned park will include a cap over a section of Interstate 95 — something that’s been suggested for decades, after originally being offered to residents by PennDOT when the highway was being built.
Design plans show a total of 11.5 acres of green space, stretching from Front Street to the river, right next to the Penn’s Landing Hilton and Spruce Street Harbor Park.
Groundbreaking for the Park at Penn’s Landing, which is being shepherded by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, was initially slated for 2021, but COVID nixed that timeline. DRWC is aiming to begin construction in the coming months, and to have the project finished by the U.S. semiquincentennial in 2026.
Current planned amenities include:
- A central timber pavilion, called Philly’s first constructed in a carbon neutral manner
- A cafe and mobile food options, from trucks to carts.
- A stage and amphitheater right on the water.
- A complex of gardens.
- A play space for children “inspired by the Pennsylvania woodlands.”
More museums for the Ben Franklin Parkway
Already home to the city’s largest concentration of cultural institutions, the Ben Franklin Parkway is about to get even more.
The African American Museum of Philadelphia and a $70 million museum dedicated to Philly-born sculptor Alexander Calder are landing on the flag-strewn thoroughfare, part of the city’s wider plans to redevelop the boulevard.
After decades in Old City, the AAMP will be moving to the former Family Court Building at 1801 Vine St., next to the Parkway Central Library. At 50,000 square feet, the museum’s new location offers triple the space, and is expected to boost yearly attendance past the current 80,000.
Four firms have been shortlisted by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Corporation to manage the move, with proposals due by 2022’s end. Presumably we’ll know more about the projected cost and timeline soon.
The new museum in his honor is called Calder Gardens. A mostly subterranean structure with exhibit space carved into the ground, it will be across from and managed by the Barnes Foundation. After groundbreaking in November, construction is expected to continue through 2023, with hopes of completion by 2024.
More towers from Parkway Corp.
Parkway Corporation, a family-owned parking firm that’s been developing real estate since Liberty One and Two were built on its property, will tuck into several projects atop existing surface lots.
Slated to open this year is 2222 Market, the new headquarters for Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, which is moving from elsewhere in Center City. The globe-spanning law firm will be the only tenant of the 19-story structure rising at 23rd and Market, making it one of few office towers being built in the city right now. Current timeline projects a summer opening.
Parkway is behind one of the other office projects, recently confirmed for 20th and Arch. The idea for a 400,000-sq.-ft. tower gained community approval before the pandemic, but was put on ice amid COVID’s market disruption.
Now the building is back on, with retail on the ground floor and many of the upper stories making up a new corporate HQ for global insurance giant Chubb.
There are also plans for a 31-story apartment building at 21st and Ludlow, with Parkway looking to take advantage of the city’s recently created “mixed-income housing bonus.” Plans call for pricing some units to be affordable for people making 60% of the area median income — $50k for two-member households and $63k for four-member households.
City-backed homes for municipal workers (and others)
The city’s Turn the Key program broke ground in December on its first two dozen affordable homes, in the Grays Ferry neighborhood. The rest of a planned 1,000 units are slated to be completed in the coming year.
Part of 2020’s bond-financed Neighborhood Preservation Initiative, the program aims to construct 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath homes on city-owned lots, then make them affordable to people making under 80% of the area median income. Some have said the max sale price of $280,000 isn’t low enough, given Philly’s widespread poverty.
Two more important aspects of the program called “the single largest development of affordable housing in Philadelphia history”:
- It’s strictly for first-time homeowners, and was announced as a way to secure more housing for municipal employees, who are paid at least $15/hr, double the stagnant statewide and federal minimum wage.
- Income-eligible applicants are offered a “soft loan” of up to $75,000 that’s secured through a second mortgage, per a city press release, and can be forgiven after 30 years.
Things haven’t always worked smoothly with plans to develop city-owned vacant lots, which are sometimes adopted by urban gardeners who’ve turned them into community spaces, and are not thrilled about having them snatched back.
Neighborhoods in line for Turn the Key construction in 2023 include Brewerytown, Grays Ferry, Ludlow, Port Richmond, and West Poplar.
Rivermark Northern Liberties
Just north of Penn’s Landing, another DRWC-led project will be humming through the year. Rivermark Northern Liberties, fka Festival Pier, is a massive $2.2 billion mixed-use project located at 501 N. Columbus Blvd. that will include:
- 470 multi-family housing units in two five- and six-story buildings.
- 45,000 square feet of commercial space including restaurants and stores.
- Four acres of public space and parks, which will connect to the Delaware River Trail.
The project has been in the works for a long time, the result of decades of planning to replace a municipal trash incinerator that was all finalized back in 2011.
Developers are aiming to open in spring 2024, making next year a crucial one.
South Broad turning into Dranoff Drag
Developer Carl Dranoff had a busy 2022, opening the 47-story luxury condo tower Arthaus on the Avenue of the Arts. The next few years appear just as busy for Dranoff Properties, with multiple mixed-use projects planned further down South Broad Street.
A 14-story, 91-unit building at Broad and Pine anchored by commercial space is slated to begin construction. Dranoff described it as an “elite boutique apartment building,” per the Philadelphia Business Journal, which noted it has the added benefit of protecting the view from the higher floors of two of Dranoff’s nearby towers.
Further down the road, the firm has also revealed plans for an 85-unit tower at Broad and Carpenter, where the retro McDonald’s once operated.
The debate over 76 Place
Construction is far away, since the project is only in proposal stage, but 76 Devcorp is targeting June for having the necessary zoning approval and community benefits agreement (CBA) in place to build a new downtown home for the Sixers.
That means you can expect to hear a lot about it in the coming months.
As currently designed, the arena would take over the west end of the Fashion District at 10th and 11th and Market, and extend to encompass the bus station a block north.
The plan has received major pushback from Chinatown, which begins about 10 feet from the edge of the proposed development. Community members worry the new development would make it hard to maintain existing small businesses and threaten the neighborhood’s atmosphere and heritage. Representatives of the Sixers were roundly booed for over an hour at a community meeting in early December.
That same group of concerned residents questioned the legitimacy of the steering committee recently set up by four Chinatown organizations, who say they plan to work with 76 Devcorp to fine tune the proposal and help adjudicate the Sixers’ CBA.
A representative from the Sixers noted that there are other nearby communities with a say in the matter, like Reading Terminal Market and Washington Square West — but vowed they would not stick with the June deadline if there was still clear dissent.
FDR Park redesign
South Philly’s Franklin D. Roosevelt Park is ready for its makeover — more or less.
A plan that updated the 2019 design for a new FDR Park was released over the summer, and work has already started. About 60% of the park will be natural areas, after a golf driving range was cut from the plan in favor of wetlands.
Local environmentalists have been some of the loudest voices opposing the plan. Soil taken from the soon-to-be wetlands would go toward building athletic fields on the area informally known as “The Meadows,” which reverted to a natural state after the golf course shut down over the summer.
Activists have framed the forthcoming fields as being built at the behest of FIFA, the scandal-ridden global soccer organization that selected Philly as one of several World Cup 2026 host cities. However, city officials note, the fields were in the plan prior to the World Cup announcement and only a couple would be used for the tournament.
In August, someone vandalized and damaged vehicles that had begun clearing trees near the golf course, per 6ABC. But work on the 348-acre park continues, with opening to occur in various stages from now through 2026.
Iron Stone’s massive apartment plan in West Philly
West Philly’s Provident Mutual Life Insurance Building at 4601 Market St. — once slated to be PPD’s headquarters — has now turned into the Provident Campus, with major tenants in Public Health Management Corporation and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, plus a KIPP school.
Iron Stone Real Estate is now aiming to build over 1,000 apartments on the acres surrounding the campus. It’s the biggest residential project this portion of the city has in decades, if not a century.
The firm doesn’t need any zoning variances, so how many affordable units end up in the apartment buildings is up to the developers.
But for a project of this scale in West Philly to have any affordable offerings is a big deal, said Councilmember Jaimie Gauthier, whose district includes the area. “It is everybody’s job to be a part of the solution,” she told The Inquirer in August. “Developers need to be a part of this whether they need a variance or not, whether they need funding or not.”