The large parking lot at Eighth and Vine Streets, most visible from Eighth and Race Streets, has been a Center City eyesore for decades. Long ago cleared of the tenements and small garment factories that characterized the adjacent neighborhoods of Chinatown and Old City, it has a subway that extends from Ridge Avenue, between Broad Street and Eighth and Market Streets, and a station at the corner of Eighth and Race. The subway line limits how much of the site can be built on, because the subway cannot be built upon, so the site is split into three sections that can be developed. Those sections are on Eighth Street, Race Street, and Ninth Street. Now, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority would like to develop the large, underutilized site, which takes up almost the entire block bounded by Race, Vine, Eighth, and Ninth Streets. The PRA issued a Request for Proposal last year, four years after completely assembling the whole parking lot site, which the Authority had begun doing in 1966. The PRA is joining with neighborhood groups, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, and the Office of Housing and Community Development, to form a committee to choose among the two development teams that submitted proposals for the site last December. The committee is judging the two proposals by using a “social impact scoring factor”, which is used to judge how the proposals positively impact the public and community. The social impact scoring factor will use several “scoring criteria”: quality of design, economic feasibility of the project, the development team’s experience, and each proposal’s positive social impact. The two proposals were presented to the public and neighborhood residents a couple weeks ago in a community meeting led by the PRA’s Director, Greg Heller.
The first proposal presented, at the community meeting, was by a development team which included Parkway Corporation, the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Presby’s Inspired Living, and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. It is called “Another Village” and it envisions several midrise residential buildings. Another Village is being designed by Cecil Baker Architects. It would have a condo building along Eighth Street with 85 units, ranging in size from studios to three bedrooms. That building would have a 20,000 square foot supermarket on the first floor. Prices would tentatively range from $300,000 to $500,000. A smaller condo building would be built at Ninth and Vine Streets, with four retail spaces. This building would have similar sizes and prices to the bigger building. A sixty unit senior housing building would be built on Race Street, each unit with one bedroom. It would be managed by Presby’s Inspired Living. The project would have 181 parking spaces taking up most of the open space, including spaces for electrical vehicles and car share. The plaza around the subway station at Eighth and Race Streets would have an “intergenerational playground”. The development would put a unique neon sign on one of the buildings facing the Vine Street Expressway to announce the Chinatown neighborhood. The most noteworthy public amenity would be a 6,000 square foot greenhouse along Vine Street, with a half-acre worth of produce, that would primarily be sold in the on-site supermarket. The greenhouse would use “aeroponics”, a misting system to grow the food, and would charge the same price for produce year round.
The second presentation, at the meeting, was by a development team made up of Pennrose Properties, United Development, EZ Park, and the Philadelphia Legal Aid Association. This proposal is being designed by Wallace, Roberts, and Todd. This development has taller buildings and more green spaces. The developers are seeking “connectivity” within the development and “active edges” along the major streets. This development would have an eleven story, wedge-shaped apartment building on Eighth Street with 160 rental units. The apartments would range in size from studios to two-bedroom units. The one-bedroom units are tentatively priced at $1,500 per month and the two-bedroom units are tentatively priced at $2,200 per month. Another nine story apartment building would have approximately sixty rental apartments for seniors, mostly one bedroom units. On Ninth Street would be an eight story Comfort Inn Hotel with 147 guest rooms. The tallest building, of the project, would be a fourteen story highrise tower on Race Street called the “Equality Justice Center”. The EJC would house 25 different legal aid associations, with 300 employees, which are now located in different locations around the city, and serve approximately 40,000 people each year. Each building would have retail spaces, for a total of 20,000 square feet, in all four buildings. The developers plan about 32,000 square feet of green space and green rooves on top of each building. The developers anticipate that they could start building in roughly nineteen months.
Whichever plan is chosen by the committee would be an improvement over the underutilized parking lot that has been there for decades. It would act as a gateway into Philadelphia, since it would be located near the off ramp of the Vine Street Expressway as it connects to the Ben Franklin Bridge. It would, also, add services to the neighborhood, create jobs, and provide housing for people of different ages and means.
By, Gabriel Gottlieb