A weekly series of foulmouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other development and design phenomena in Phladelphia. Find more stories like this at philaphilia.blogspot.com.
Hooooooly shit!! The would-be American Commerce Center, 1800 Arch Street.
It pains me to have to talk about this particular Dead-Ass Proposal. This was the one that gave hope to Philaphiles everywhere and made out-of-towners think that Philly was finally fucking arrived. This was going to be the new iconic symbol for our great city, a beacon of progress and strength ... and then it faded away in a sad little whimper.
For almost the entire year of 2008, indescribable levels of excitement and enthusiasm hit Philadelphia like a bag of hammers. On March 13, 2008, legendary Philaphile Brad Maule was the first to break the story about a proposal bigger and more badass than any other the city has ever seen: a 1,510-foot-tall mixed-use megabuilding that would include such crazy crap as a 473-foot-high green space (among other elevated green spaces), a 1,200-foot-high observation deck, an extension to Suburban Station, an underground parking garage for bikes, a 26-story hotel, and a shitload of big and small retail spaces, including a goddamn supermarket.
This was IT, this was the monster that would let the world know that Philadelphia is coming to fuck your shit up. The legend began in October 2007, when the developer, Garrett Miller, and Walnut Street Capital, purchased the big-ass empty lot bounded by 18th, 19th, Arch and Cuthbert Streets, an asphalt desert in the city's Central Business Distrtict. They then got the firm of Kohn Pederson Fox Associates to draw up the design for this illustriously awesome building.
This was a block that should be no stranger to cool-ass buildings. It was once home to the magnificent Addison Hutton-designed megacastle built for the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1891.
18th and Arch in 1899. Pic from the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project.
Though puny by today's standards, in 1891, this was a HUGE motherfucking behemoth of a building. It rocked the southwest corner of 18th and Arch Streets for 89 years, and was demolished in the month of my birth in favor of the massive surface parking lot that still sits there today.
The chance of getting the American Commerce Center was reliant on getting over many massive hurdles. The block was zoned C-4 and had to be upgraded to C-5. The spot had a height limit of 125 feet. They needed an anchor tenant to get going and the economy was rapidly going to shit. All of those hurdles pailed in comparison to the fact that the location was next door to the International Headquarters of NIMBYdom, the block-long Monolith of Assholes known as the Kennedy House.
This rendering shows the butt-fugly Kennedy House's relationship with the ACC, which seems to be giving us the finger in this view.
Only a couple of months after the ACC proposal was revealed, the NIMBYs lawyered-up and planned their assault on this big-ass project. Shadows, traffic and construction noise were the harbingers of doom to these people. Somehow they never expected tall buildings in the city's central business district.
On July 16, 2008, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission meeting where the official proposal for the ACC would be revealed, was flash mobbed by the Kennedy House's greatest NIMBY heroes. They even got the former State Sen. Vincent Fumo to endorse them, calling the building an "atrocity" and "out of scale with the rest of Center City," which is about as bullshit as bullshit gets.
OMG, what an atrocity! So out of scale with the city's current tallest building only one block away! Fumo, enjoy jail.
A second Planning Commission meeting was scheduled for September 2008, but got pushed back twice and did not occur until Nov. 18. In the meantime, the developer changed from Walnut Street Capital to Hill International. When the second Planning Commission meeting came along, Philaphiles organized so they could have just as much of a presence as the NIMBYs. On that day, the Planning Commission gave their recommendation to the project and the NIMBYs were temporarily defeated.
On Dec. 3, 2008, the zoning changes and height restrictions finally got discussed in City Council, almost six months after the legislation was introduced by Councilman Darrell Clarke. NIMBYs hit this meeting hard, but didn't have any effect on the Council's unanimous decision on Dec. 11, 2008 to approve everything needed to build the ACC.
This was it. In March 2009, signs advertising the skyscraper went up at the surface lot it would replace. There was nothing that could stop this bastard now ... except money. An anchor tenant was all that was needed to get this thing going. Tenants for smaller parts of the building like the hotel and retail spaces started flooding in, but that pesky anchor tenant just wasn't coming. GlaxoSmithKline was favored to be the winner, but it was only based on rumor.
Months and months came and went while Philaphiles tried their best to keep their hopes up. Hill International announced every few months that they were still looking for tenants, and in October 2010, talked about rejecting an offer from Liberty Property Trust. On Jan. 1, 2011, the zoning variance on the lot expired, but got extended until January 2013 due to some new state legislation (assuming Hill did the paperwork to get the extension). In February 2011, GlaxoSmithKline signed with Liberty to move to the Navy Yard, dashing all hopes that they would be the anchor tenant. Despite that, Hill was still pimping the development to potential anchor tenants as late as April 2011.
In August of 2011, the American Commerce Center officially entered Dead-Ass Proposal status. The parking lot was sold to Liberty Property Trust for $45 million, sadly killing off the project entirely. The only hope that remains for this lot is that until January 2013, this space is still zoned for a big-ass building. Let's hope that Liberty gets it shit together and builds a huge motherfucker before a NIMBY finishes watching Matlock.
This is the biggest dangling-carrot skyscraper proposal the city has ever seen. Though other supertalls have been proposed over the decades, most of them never got passed the first sketch. This one was painstakingly planned down to the last detail and got all its ducks in a row before the shitbag economy killed it. This is unequivocally the saddest dead-ass proposal the city has ever seen. The saddest.
A depressingly ACCless 18th and Arch.
Google Maps still has the location labeled as the ACC. Image from Google.
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