North Broad Street, looking north from Mt. Vernon Street. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

Developers have announced another big project along North Broad Street, a longtime pivotal site in Philly’s economic, social, and political structures. 

The proposed 2 million square feet of commercial and residential projects surrounding the North Philadelphia Amtrak and SEPTA stations could play a key role in sketching out a potential future for the corridor — one that has residents of the area both enthused and wary about how it will all play out. 

Like any urban nexus, North Broad is no stranger to change. Since the 1920s, the stretch from City Hall to nearly Montco has alternatively been a site for industrial pursuits from locomotives to garments, home to many wealthy industrialists, and a crucial juncture in the national transportation system. 

In due course the roadway experienced deindustrialization, in many cases decades earlier than other urban areas. Social and demographic reconfigurations informed by the shift in jobs, the nature of 20th-century migration to Philly, and changing local and national politics gave rise to different institutions of cultural, educational, and civic importance. 

Today, entrepreneurs and organizations with ties to the area are beginning to work out what North Broad’s future will hold. 

From the formation of a business improvement district to the Divine Lorraine’s resumption of hotel service after years of leasing apartments, arrangements are being made to inform yet another recomposition of a Philly staple. 

Here’s a look at some recently announced, proposed, and scheduled projects that could play a role in that process. 

SHIFT Capital and Essence Development join plan to reimagine North Philly transit hub 

The North Station District is a proposed mixed-use 5-acre development first announced as a collaboration between NYC-based HFZ Capital Group and Amtrak. It’s a multifaceted plan to revitalize the area around North Philly’s Amtrak and SEPTA Regional Rail stop that’s been in the offing for years now

Permits for different phases of the proposal were granted in 2019, and the project also received a $4 million state grant. 

Now as North Station becomes closer to taking full shape, Shift Capital — a firm that has shepherded a series of projects in the area — and Essence Development, led by former Philadelphia Eagle Jamar Adams, have joined forces to lead the charge. 

The two firms this week announced the intention to make “a major neighborhood investment” into North Station District, guided by “social impact development” — a set of development strategies for firms seeking profit in disadvantaged areas that stresses the importance of community buy-in and participation. 

What the partnership aims to achieve is still vague, but a Shift press release on future plans stressed that the creation of “equitable community-serving projects” will prioritize “full inclusion and community involvement throughout project development and construction.”

1600 North Broad high rise

A plan by Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments to build a 15-story, 245-unit apartment building right behind the AMC Theatre on Broad Street, has distilled some aspects of the tensions between developers and area residents. 

The proposed development would bring over 40 more parking spaces to the area, open only to tower residents. One person connected with the project expects “people related to Temple” — but not undergrads  to be a healthy chunk of renters. Questions about who developers were catering to and concerns about reduced parking for area residents led to community opposition, made evident at a July neighborhood meeting.  

“The biggest red flag was the number of single units, which screams potential student housing,” William Harris, president of the United Neighbors Alliance Civic Association, told The Inquirer

Several Blatstein-developed projects have gone forward successfully in the past — including most of the properties immediately surrounding the proposed high rise — but this project is an interesting example of how an overall increased pace of development can affect neighborhood reception.

Beury Building hotel + commercial space/Shift capital redux

The Beury Building, known to some as the “Boner 4ever” building due to some conspicuous graffiti tags, is also undergoing a transition into a mixed-use hotel space. Shift Capital acquired the building in 2012 and has been working on redeveloping the site ever since. 

A revamped Beury building is slated to include:

  • 172 guest rooms 
  • A ground-level and rooftop restaurant 
  • Fully equipped fitness center 
  • Meeting spaces

Shift’s drive for “social impact” has led to a community benefits agreement for the site, similar to the 113-unit apartment complex the firm is building next door. The community benefits agreement includes:

  • Hiring 20% local certified Minority Business Enterprises and 10% local Women Business Enterprises for the construction of the hotel
  • Monthly free access to meeting spaces for neighborhood organizations
  • Hiring at least 25% MBEs for permanent jobs
  • Employing a jobs coordinator who will work with community organizations to refer local applicants to open positions, job fairs, and postings
  • Assembling job training and apprenticeship initiatives for neighborhood residents
  • Consistent safety and security measures around the site
  • Participation in neighborhood cleanups

Multiple projects at the Girard Street intersection

Broad and Girard will also see its fair share of changes in the coming years, in large part due to two mixed use projects at 922-38 and 918 N. Broad St., respectively. 

The former project, by Hightop Development and CosicaMoos Architecture, will include 196 units and parking for 40 cars and 64 bicycles, set to be anchored by a Lidl grocery store.

The latter development will consist of 49 units atop retail offerings, composed by Canno Design

Akin to many sites along the corridor, proximity to the Broad Street Line and the wider transit system is front of mind concerning all of these plans. 

One for the future: Prime real estate at Broad and Spring Garden

Another location that could play a similar role in the area’s recomposition sits at 523-525 N. Broad, the northeast corner of the intersection. EB Realty Management Corp. is putting the lots on the market, currently an apartment building and a development site.

Jordan Levy is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn, always aiming to help Philadelphians share their stories. Formerly, he has worked at Document Journal, n+1 Magazine, and The New Republic. He...