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Controversial New Condo Tower to be Built on Jewelers Row

702 sansomA new condominium tower is planned for Philadelphia’s historic Jewelers Row, just off of Seventh and Sansom Streets.  This new tower is being developed by luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers, who have been shifting their development focus towards city living in recent years, and designed by SLCE Architects.  The controversial part is that Toll is planning to demolish five 18-foot wide, midrise buildings that housed jewelry stores and gem cutting and polishing rooms on upper floors, arguing that the buildings’ different heights and floor alignments wouldn’t be compatible with a modern, ADA-accessible building.  Jewelers Row is characterized by midrise buildings devoted entirely to jewelry sales and manufacturing by small local retailers, which makes a high rise building additionally controversial.  Efforts to stop the demolition of the existing buildings, in court and by the Zoning Board, have failed and now the developers and architects presented their plans to the Planning Commission’s Civic Design Review board this week.

The new tower will be 29 stories and 354 feet tall and will have 115 condominium units.  The units will be one, two, and three bedroom units, but Toll hasn’t decided the exact mix of differently sized units.  The main entrance and lobby will be on Sansom Street.  The developers are planning 2,600 square feet of retail space on Sansom Street, in hopes of returning the retail space that will be lost when the previous buildings are demolished.  The new retail likely could be jewelry stores and there may be one, two, or three businesses depending on the tenants they eventually sign to leases.  There will, also, be a small traditional looking one-story wing of the building on Seventh Street for the loading dock, what Toll is calling a “jewel box” addition.  The building will have no on-site parking, but Toll Brothers is contracting with nearby garages to provide at least 40 parking spaces and will offer a valet service out front.  There will, also, be 37 bicycle parking spaces.  The tower will be set back from the four-story podium, with private terraces for the fifth floor residences.  The architects are considering either a traditional looking brick façade for the podium or a more contemporary all-glass façade.  The tower will have a tri-partite façade with brick and large windows facing Sansom Street, and Jewelers Row, and an all-glass façade facing Walnut Street and Washington Square Park.  The base will, also, have some stone and metal panels.  Since Jewelers Row doesn’t have trees, to avoid conflicting with the stores and their signs, the developers are not including street trees, but will have some shrubbery in front of the lobby and maybe the retail space.

This new tower at 702 Sansom Street will add new well-to-do residents to Jewelers Row.  While many speakers, in audience comments at the Civic Design Review hearing, objected to the demolition and/or to the tower and its design, one of the jewelry store owners testified that almost all the store owners in Jewelers Row are in favor of this development because the unique retail district is struggling, due to increased competition from chain stores and internet retail.  The jewelers are afraid that Jewelers Row may not survive without new development nearby and are welcoming certain changes.  Jewelers Row business owners are hoping for some new business from this, and likely other, developments in the neighborhood, such as the super-luxury 500 Walnut Street condo tower and new apartments in the neighboring Curtis Center.

By, Gabriel Gottlieb