Site preparation is underway for a 13-story, 382-unit mixed-use high-rise at 501 Spring Garden Street in Northern Liberties, North Philadelphia. During Philly YIMBY’s recent site visit, we observed that the single-story, suburban-style mall that previously stood at the site appears to have been entirely demolished. Designed by Bower Lewis Thrower Architects (aka BLT Architects) and developed by RREI LLC, the 153-foot-tall structure will offer 60,810 square feet of retail, providing a significant anchor for the long-desolate yet rapidly up-and-coming southern section of Northern Liberties. Due to construction fencing, it is unclear whether the excavators and other machinery and equipment spotted at the site were in the process of finishing the demolition, clearing the site, or actually starting excavation. In either case, it is evident that work is finally underway at the much-anticipated development.
When YIMBY visited the site in March, we found the shopping center still standing intact at the site, and apparently fully operational. From the outside, the structure appeared as an average suburban-style mall. Less visible from the street was the central arcade, which passed between retailers toward a central plaza. In either case, the shopping center was one of the worst exampled of drab, car-oriented, anti-pedestrian architecture that has marred Southern Northern Liberties, for decades, ever since the city tore down much of the vibrant industrial district with a centuries-long history during an ill-advised “urban renewal” project. Even the shopping center’s arcade and plaza, which sound pleasant on paper, were grim, cemented, near-featureless, greenery-free, and altogether inhospitable.
The replacement building, also known under the address of 501-39 Spring Garden Street, will pose a stark contrast to its shabby predecessor. The proposed retail will extend to the sidewalk line and, together with floor-to-ceiling storefronts and new street trees, will create a pleasant and vibrant pedestrian experience, further boosted buy the influx of residents within the building itself. The tower’s crisp white facade and broad, floor-to-ceiling windows, accented with a bright yellow band at the crown, will create a noticeable presence on the rapidly-growing local skyline.
As our site visit confirms, the development has now made some of the furthest progress among a series of similarly-scaled, mixed-use high-rise buildings planned along, and to the south of, Spring Garden Street. Together, the buildings will transform this dreary district of warehouses and parking lots into a vibrant community, as befits its storied urban history (still independent at the time, Northern Liberties ranked as the nation’s largest city in 1790) and central location at the vanguard of Lower North Philadelphia, sited between Center City to the south, Callowhill and Spring Garden to the west, the Delaware River waterfront to the east, and central Northern Liberties to the north.
As the neighborhood’s streetscape is on the precipice of change, so is its identity. In order to express its new form, local leaders, businesses, and developers alike are seeking to give the neighborhood a name as new as its up-and-coming streetscape. The sentiment is not misguided, as the district will clearly have an identity distinct from its more established counterpart to the north. The Block at SoNo, a 49-unit rental building nearing completion a block to the south, takes its name after the SoNo portmanteau that is seeing increased usage. Callow East, named after the neighborhood to the west, is also in contention.
In our recent article covering The Block at SoNo, YIMBY even advanced our own suggestion of Cohoquinoque [ko-ho-ki-NOK], a Lenni Lenape name that was used to call a creek that still flows under the local streets and predates any competitors by hundreds of years. In either case, the neighborhood is about to embark on an exciting new chapter no matter which name it goes by.
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I’d love to see that GSA building sold by the fed government or at least their parking lot portion of the parcel.
Sophisticated. Refined. Restrained.
Win win win.