Philly YIMBY’s recent site visit discovered no signs of demolition nor construction activity at the future site of Mercato, a 13-story mixed-use building planned at 1021 North Hancock Street in Northern Liberties, North Philadelphia. Designed by DIGSAU and developed by the Post Brothers, the 231,676-square-foot high-rise will feature 280 residential units as well as a retail component at the ground floor. A plaza on Hancock Street will contribute much-needed public space in the rapidly growing neighborhood.
The site, located at the southern corner of the intersection of North Hancock Street and Germantown Avenue, currently houses a single-story, loft-style building that likely dates to the prewar period. The structure is home to several commercial tenants, which notably include Post Brothers, the proposed building’s developer.
A demolition permit was issued in September 2020, with Diplomat Construction & Demolition listed as the contractor and a $90,000 cost of work specified. Zoning permits for construction were issued in October of the same year and in January 2021. However, YIMBY’s recent site visit discovered zero signs of construction activity of any kind, with tenants apparently continuing to operate from the facility and cars parked on the adjacent parking lot.
Although slightly worn (perhaps even fashionably so, given its gritty work loft aesthetic), the existing structure is quite attractive. A shoulder-high wainscot wall of dark red brick supports a jewel box-like, all-glass exterior comprised of paneled windows and framed by metal mullions and rusted, riveted beams.
The doors facing the parking lot are painted in primary colors, adding a delightful touch to the otherwise earth-toned composition. A square-plan chimney at the top adds further industrial character from the few street angles where it is visible.
In all, the building exudes the fine minimalist charm of early modern industrial construction, with an effortless authenticity that so many Neo-Industrial loft-style residences seek to emulate in the modern day. One that accomplishes the effect with reasonable success is the Piazza Terminal, a multi-building high-rise complex under construction just up Germantown Avenue, also developed by Post Brothers.
Despite its appeal, the existing building falls short of requiring preservation and makes for inefficient use of such a large site centrally located in one of the city’s fastest-growing neighborhoods. Its rectangular footprint makes for an awkward fit for the pizza slice-shaped site. The residual space on either side is also underutilized, with a sparse plaza on the west side and a parking lot to the north.
The new proposal will be a significant improvement for the property. The hundreds of new residential units will help feed the acute housing demand in the rapidly growing neighborhood. The commercial component will further spruce up the area’s expanding retail scene and will help anchor the commercial corridors in central Northern Liberties to the south and Fishtown to the north, as well as the emerging shopping and entertainment district along the Delaware River waterfront located just a few blocks to the southeast.
The added density is easily justified with ample transit service, where the nearby Spring Garden and Girard stations on the Market-Frankford Line offer a five- to ten-minute commute to Center City, while the Route 15 trolley on Girard Avenue offers a near-direct ride to both Temple University and University City.
If anything, this significant transit accessibility supports an argument for even greater density at the site. Furthermore, if city planning agencies and community groups got over their unreasonable fear of heights and distrust of tall buildings, the site would be better served by a taller and slimmer building, which would open clear-sky access for the entirety of the public plaza, roughly half of which currently sits under the broad building’s northern wing.