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Exciting new entertainment center on Delaware waterfront, at intersection of Frankford and Canal Streets

On May 11, 2013

canal street north rendering

I’m taking a break from talking about new apartment buildings (although, I’ll be resuming those articles next week) to write about the exciting entertainment center planned for the intersection of Frankford Avenue and Canal Street, just off of Delaware Avenue, near the Northern Liberties and Fishtown waterfront.  The new development will be called Canal North and it is planned for the former Ajax Warehouse and an adjacent warehouse, across Canal Street, that was used for a long time to store dry ice.  It is being designed by Interface Studios and built by Core Realty, whose owner Michael Samschick has promised to transform several acres of land in this area into a master development known as Penn Treaty Village.  Core Realty has already been developing the Pennthouses at Penn Treaty Village (formerly known as Waterview Grande), which is a renovation of two large eight-storey warehouses at Delaware Avenue and Brown Street.  Canal North just had a hearing at the Zoning Board of Adjustment today, April 17, but the size of the project and a few neighbors concerned about the size and hours of the venues caused the ZBA to decide to schedule a special purpose hearing for the project, so that they can hear all the details and allow the neighbors’ attorney, Paul Boni, to voice their concerns, before they can have a final vote on approval.  That new hearing will likely be held in the next month.  The Fishtown Neighbors Association has  already voted to support the project.

Canal North will have several entertainment venues.  The highlight will be a 3,000 seat concert hall on the first floor of the Ajax warehouse, that will be managed by Live Nation under their “Fillmore” brand.  But, there will also be a 20 to 24 lane Revolutions bowling lounge, a distillery on the second floor , a restaurant on the first floor at the corner of Frankford, Laurel Street, and Canal, and a large country-western themed restaurant, with live music, in the former dry ice warehouse, that is part of the chain of restaurants owned by country singer Toby Keith.  There will, also, be some space for additional retail, such as restaurants, and office space on the second floor of the Ajax warehouse, intended for small, start-up businesses that are popular in that area of the city.  The concert venue and distillery will be accessible on Canal Street and the restaurant in the Ajax building will open up onto a plaza at the intersection of Frankford, Laurel, and Canal, which almost intersects with Delaware Avenue across the street from the SugarHouse Casino.  In fact, there will be about 14,000 square feet of landscaped open space, as well as, storm water planters on Frankford Avenue.  The Ajax building will have new windows on the upper floors and lighted signs on the first floor along Frankford Avenue, probably to advertise the concerts, and there will be accessory digital signage on the roof of the building, and possibly an artistic model of a train on the roof, that would both be visible from I-95.  The developers promised that all signage on Canal North would be for accessory purposes of the venues and businesses there, so there will not be billboards.

What’s also cool about this development is that it is intended to be the first phase for Canal Street.  Canal Street is a thin, winding street that stretches from Frankford Avenue to Brown Street in an unusual way.  It was once a creek and was later converted to a canal, then to a Belgian-block street, amidst the Delaware waterfront’s many warehouses.  In modern times it was all but forgotten, as most of the warehouses on that stretch of the waterfront were left abandoned.  Now, Michael Samschick and Core Realty want to reimagine Canal Street by building low-rise buildings with unique stores, restaurants, and cafes along the street and apartments and office space above.  Low-rise buildings are appropriate for thin Canal Street, however, I don’t think that they are best for wide streets like Delaware Avenue or Spring Garden Street.  The City Planning Commission and City Council are about to consider a height limit of 244 feet for the waterfront, as part of the Central Delaware Waterfront Overlay District, and I think the height limit portion of that legislation would only hold back the city’s progress by limiting large development along major streets, where it is most appropriate.  Anyway, Core Realty would also like to close off Canal Street, which ends between the two buildings of the Pennthouses, to vehicular traffic, so that Canal Street becomes a colorful and unique destination, like a pedestrian version of South Street or Frankford and Passyunk Avenues.  Canal North would anchor the northern end of the new version of Canal Street and the Pennthouses would anchor the southern end, and include a pedestrian plaza with retail and, according to representatives of Core Realty, an IMAX movie screen in a building adjacent to the Pennthouses.  Canal Street might just become one of the coolest streets in the city!

While this article isn’t about an apartment building for once, this area of the city is experiencing quite a lot of residential development, some of it likely encouraged by this development.  There is an eleven storey apartment building planned for Delaware Avenue; next to the Ben Franklin Bridge, a 20-storey apartment highrise planned to be built next to Waterfront Square; across Delaware Avenue from the Pennthouses, a 16-storey apartment building planned for Columbus Boulevard (Delaware Avenue south); next to the Dockside Condominiums, and a huge apartment and retail development planned for Delaware Avenue at Callowhill Street; which would have four highrise buildings and a large shopping center and public plaza.

Canal North would, also, extend the Delaware waterfront entertainment area, which includes the SugarHouse Casino across Delaware Avenue, the new home of the Fringe Festival/Live Arts Festival at Race Street, the Festival Pier and Great Plaza (which I hope they would keep when they redevelop Penn’s Landing), and several nightclubs and historic ships.  Soon, there will also be an additional mid-sized concert venue on the waterfront when Grasso Holdings builds a new House of Blues concert hall at an old warehouse about a mile north of Canal North and SugarHouse (that project has all the financing needed and should start construction soon).  Canal North would likely start construction this year, as well.  The Planning Commission approved the project last December, but put several conditions that must be met in order to be allowed to begin construction.  Among those conditions are that the developers must provide enough parking for both normal and peak use days and evenings.  The Commissioners insist that the developer provide 500 regular spaces and have agreements with owners of neighboring lots, such as at SugarHouse and the Festival Pier, to provide excess parking during concerts, which will likely be held 60 to 70 times a year.  Most of the every day parking would be under I-95, and eventually a multi-storey parking garage would be built there.  Many patrons of the concert venue, and other businesses, would be young people who would take mass-transit there, including the Market/Frankford El and the Girard Avenue (Route 15) trolley, which stops right in front of Canal North at a new branch on Frankford Avenue that has a loop back to Girard Avenue.  There will, also, be 66 bike parking spaces.

Area of Canal North development (courtesy of PlanPhilly)

Area of Canal North development (courtesy of PlanPhilly)
Rendering of Canal North from the intersection of Frankford Avenue, Laurel Street, and Canal Street
Rendering of Canal North from the intersection of Frankford Avenue, Laurel Street, and Canal Street
Rendering of plaza at Canal North
Rendering of plaza at Canal North

Ajax Warehouse, from Delaware Avenue

Side of Ajax Warehouse on Frankford Avenue









Looking up Frankford Avenue









Canal Street sign









Looking south on Canal Street, which will soon be redeveloped










Former ice warehouse will be a country/western themed restaurant










North side of Ajax Warehouse










Piazza at Schmidt’s in the distance









Looking down Frankford Avenue, towards Delaware Avenue









Trolley and bus loop on Frankford Avenue









Pennthouses in the distance









SugarHouse Casino across Delaware Avenue









Waterfront Square across Delaware Avenue









Looking south on Delaware Avenue



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