A weekly series of foul-mouthed investigations into empty lots, dead-ass proposals and other design phenomena in Philadelphia. Find more stories like this at Philaphilia.blogspot.com.
735 South Columbus Boulevard
It seems that all Ensemble Real Estate can do for Philadelphia is an ensemble of Dead-Ass Proposals. Though they did finally get something done recently (Courtyard by Marriott in the Navy Yard), these motherfuckers seem to be full of broken promises. This, the Penn's Landing Tower, is just one of many.
In 2005, Bucks County lawyer-turned-developer Louis Cicalese's Delaware River Development Group LLC took advantage of the mid 2000s building boom by purchasing several sites along the Delaware River. Pier 34 South was probably the riskiest of their sites, given that its location is especially tricky. Here, you have a noisy-ass heliport immediately to the south and an incredibly busy intersection immediately out front. Part of that busy intersection is an on-off ramp for I-95 that is in constant use 24 hours a day. On top of that, the same site was the scene of a deadly pier collapse just five years earlier that was still fresh in everyone's memory.
Well, the developer didn't give a shit about any of those problems and in 2006 hooked up with the Phoenix-based Ensemble Real Estate. They set about creating a gigantic tower that would stand on this space. They called it "Penn's Landing Tower" even though it was to be quite far away from Penn's Landing itself. This 297,584 square foot behemoth would tower 438 feet above an area that has nothing even half that size. 230 residential units with a six-story parking garage in back holding 395 parking spaces and topped with a pool. The floors of the tower would have an egg-shaped footprint and units would range between about 700-1800 square feet with a super-gigantic 5700 square foot unit at the top. The architect was Cope Linder.
As the proposal lulled over the next few years, the project was applied and re-applied with the Zoning Board in May 2007, twice in 2008, and one last time in 2009. The project was by-right, so no adjustments were necessary besides some stuff having to do with signage. Though it was one of about 20 such projects proposed (and failed) for the Delaware Riverfront at the time, this one got almost no mention even though it was able to get much further along than most of those other projects. Finally, in 2010, the proposal was finally confirmed as no longer happening, though the building did get all the necessary approvals.
The plan then became to use the approvals from Penn's Landing Tower as a precedent for a hotel project: a Residence Inn Marriott for Pier 34 South. That idea was Dead on Arrival and was never heard from after its first mention.
Everyone figured this and all the other Ensemble proposals to be dead until the Summer of 2012, when Cicalese and friends came back with new proposals for most of their ersatz properties. One of them was a new proposal for the site of Penn's Landing Tower. Things had changed since the first proposal, most notably the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which set 100 foot height limits on riverfront properties. The new proposal would be a 180-foot apartment building with 209 units and a 209-space parking garage. Included would be a rooftop deck with a pool, along with some green features for the building. The new project would be wider this time, covering both Piers 34 and 35. Cope Linder would once again provide the design.
The new plan as first presented.
Unlike in 2006, Cicalese and friends would now have to deal with the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and more restrictions for the Planning Commission since it was taller than allowed. They whined about it being too tall (funny, that wasn't a problem when the 438' Penn's Landing Tower was approved), complained about the lack of retail and pier/river access, and squealed about the building materials. The project was presented two more times and finally got approvals in September 2012 in exchange for a redesign that included public river access, different building massing, and a space on the first floor that would be convertible to retail if and when this location would become viable for such a use (the 29th Century).
Then... a whole lot of nothing. I'm fighting every instinct within my soul to declare the Pier 34-35 proposal dead, but this thing hasn't been heard of since that approval in a year ago. Hopefully this and Ensemble's other fully approved riverfront project will rise from the ashes and get built soon. Though I like the idea of the 438-foot Penn's Landing Tower, this isn't really the right location for something on such a large scale and the new proposal seems much more appropriate. Ah crap! Am I becoming a NIMBY?!?!?
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