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.
901 North Penn Street. Old 2003 rendering.
Waterfront Square, the luxury condo gated community on North Penn Street on the Delaware Riverfront, was proposed in 2003 by its original developer, a partnership of Isle of Capri Associates and a Tel Aviv-based developer, as a five-tower, 968-unit juggernaut on nearly 10 acres. However, only three of the towers got built. The last two, called The Horizon and The Tides, have fallen into the Dead Proposal black hole ... or have they?
You have to give Waterfront Square some credit -- as isolated and unattractive as it is, this project was the pioneer that started the great improvements this former industrial center has seen in the past few years. When it was first under construction, none of the nearby attractions existed. No Sugarhouse, no Provenance, the Yards Brewery was in Kensington -- everything in the immediate area was either an abandoned industrial building or a failed nightclub. When it was proposed, Waterfront Square was among about 20 different luxury condo highrise proposals in that little spot along the Delaware. It and Sugarhouse were the only ones to get built.
The Second Skyline that never was.
Phase One, consisting of the first two towers, The Regatta and The Peninsula, were a smashing success when completed in Fall 2006. Monied people from all around the region moved right in, including local celebrities and athletes, despite how nasty the buildings looked with their Miami-like style and boxy elevator shaft caps on the roofs. The buildings offered great units, great views and a shitload of amenities, so it's not inconceivable that some heavy-walleted motherfuckers would be happy to make this place home. This success made it seem as though the whole complex was set to get built. Nonetheless, the delays seemed to begin almost immediately after Phase One.
Only one month after opening, the developer announced that Phase Two would consist of two more towers, The Reef, smallest of the five at 21 stories, and The Horizon, tallest of the five at 37 stories. At the time, it was reported that 90% of The Reef and 50% of The Horizon were already under agreement. By November 2006, those figures had already reduced to less than half of either tower. Two groundbreaking ceremonies were held with no construction.
Less than half a year later, the Housing Crash reared its ugly head on the Philadelphia condo market and hit Waterfront Square especially hard, since this was a high-end luxury development (or at least was planned as such). A redesign of The Reef was completed in June 2007, making the tower a bit wider to accommodate more units. Construction was promised for later that summer but did not begin in earnest until February 2008.
While The Reef was being built, the market got even worse. Numerous people who had thrown down deposits on units in the new tower pulled out. By the time it was done in early 2009, there was barely anybody left to move in. These issues put the seemingly imminent construction of The Horizon on hold. By mid 2010, the developer was auctioning off units as a last ditch effort to keep the complex above water.
It wasn't enough. In May 2012, with only 61 units occupied, The Reef went into foreclosure and the 115 unsold units were taken over by its lender, the Union Labor Life Insurance Company (ULLICO). They handed over management and sales responsibilities to Grasso Holdings, hoping they could get some bodies into these awesome units. Last April it was reported that Grasso was able to get The Reef over 50% occupied.
That's all well and good, but what are they going to do with the massive empty space where The Horizon and The Tides were supposed to go? Even if all of The Reef gets sold (which is pretty much guaranteed to happen due to how much the area around the complex has improved), will The Horizon and The Tides still be built using the crappy 2003 designs? Grasso's new website for Waterfront Square makes no mention of the unbuilt towers and no indication they would ever be constructed has been made. So whatever should they do with that empty space?
Massive lot at the southeastern corner of the complex.
Well, guess what, ULLICO and Grasso? Your savior GroJLart is here, ready to tell you how to use that remaining space. You can thank (and pay) me later. That corner of property should change uses and be utilized for retail/restaurants along Penn Street. The amount of traffic along that stretch has greatly increased due to the presence of Sugarhouse, the Yards Brewery, the rock-climbing place and the new bike trail. All those tenants at the new Waterview Grande development would eat it right up. Canal Street North and a new residential tower at 933 N. Penn Street are proposed to go up nearby. Now's the time to put up something that can take advantage of all these humans. The residential part of Waterfront Square could remain isolated and the great green space above the parking garage could extend above it. There's enough space there for one humongous retail space or several mid-size and small ones, oodles of profit to be made. You're welcome.
Look at this shit. This segment of North Penn Street has a dedicated bike trail, the Yards Brewery, and a rock-climbing place. All it needs now is something great for this side of the street.
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