Construction is rapidly approaching completion at The Block At SoNo, a 49-unit mixed-use rental development at 456 North 5th Street in Northern Liberties, North Philadelphia. Designed by ISA Architects and developed by Alliance HP and Callahan Ward, the project is situated half a block south of Spring Garden Street in Southern Northern Liberties (aka SoNo, hence the building name). The four-story building will feature three commercial spaces on the ground floor, 40 apartments, nine live-work units, a shared lounge, and both shared and private roof decks. A recent site visit by Philadelphia YIMBY revealed that the structure is very close to completion, with exterior work almost entirely finished and finishing touches in progress around the development.
The Block at SoNo, clad in chic black metal panels, slant-angled beige brick, and spiced with accents of warm orange, boasts amenities such as a common lobby, communal communal fireplace, lounge, and a 7,200-square-foot roof deck with landscaping, fire pits, and a dog park with an outdoor shower.
The units, some of which feature double levels and private roof decks with skyline views, offer hickory wood flooring, kitchens with solid surface countertops and stainless steel appliances, and stone texture tile and black fixtures in bathrooms.
Studios range from 330 to 365 square feet and rent for $1,400 per month. One-bedroom apartments span between 485 and 685 square feet, and go for $1,550 to $1,725 per month. Two-bedrooms are sized between 780 to 895 square feet and are available from between $2,300 and $2,650 per month.
To many old-timer Philadelphian ears, SoNo sounds like an artificial portmanteau that was recently coined by real estate developers. In a sense, it was, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Even the city’s oldest neighborhoods at some point began from scratch, and their newness was jarring to longtime locals.
In this instance, however, the up-and-coming neighborhood is not springing from pristine fields or bucolic farmland. Instead, it rises from the asphalt wasteland of parking lots and warehouses that replaced the once-bustling industrial districts of southern Northern Liberties and eastern Callowhill.
The highly misguided “urban renewal” program was a desperate attempt to keep the district’s relevance in the dawning age of the automobile and global commerce. Sadly, what it succeeded at was not commercial revival, but rather neighborhood destruction and creation of highly inhospitable streetscapes in the center of the city.
If the term SoNo sounds uncanny, it is because it is as new as the residential-oriented, mixed-use buildings that are only beginning to sprout from its long-neglected yet highly development-fertile ground, which sits within steps of Center City to the south, the Delaware River waterfront to the east, central Northern Liberties and the greater Temple University area to the north, and Callowhill, the Broad Street corridor, and Spring Garden to the west.
Just as there are attempts by developers and local businesses alike to re-brand the effectively nameless district as SoNo (Color Reflections, a locally-based printing company, recently hung “SoNo” banners on light posts around the neighborhood), a competing movement, started by developer Colliers International, seeks to rename the area as Callow East, as a would-be eastern extension of Callowhill.
If we at Philly YIMBY were to throw our hat into the ring of the name game, both in jest and seriously, we would pitch a neighborhood name of Cohoquinoque [ko-ho-ki-NOK], after a creek that once ran through the land and still flows beneath the local streets into the Delaware River. If anything, this Native American name, allegedly derived from the Lenni-Lenape word for “the grove of long pine trees,” holds a much longer-lasting claim to the area than either Northern Liberties or Callowhill, even though both rank among some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Regardless of the particular name, whichever moniker sticks in the end will take some time for locals to truly get used to. Curiously, it should take much less time for us to get used to the presence of The Block at SoNo, a tricked-out luxe rental, between a Target department store, a parking lot, and a self-storage facility, with a highway overpass looming just to the south. The location is key, as just beyond the overpass lies the rarefied neighborhood of Old City. In the meantime, the surrounding area already offers a number of office and loft buildings, as well as occasional cultural gems such as the Electric Factory, a renowned concert venue situated a block to the west. As such, while its name remains uncertain, the neighborhood’s vibrant urban destiny is only a matter of time.
For above-mentioned reasons, the nearly complete development is unlikely to share its motley company for long. The district is on the cusp of a complete transformation into a dense, vibrant neighborhood, with numerous mixed-use buildings on the drawing boards. For whatever it’s worth, future longtime residents of The Block at SoNo may have the bragging rights, ostensibly ironic yet implicitly direct, of “living in SoNo before it was cool.”