After nearly 30 years of planning, the Crane Chinatown apartment tower at 10th and Vine Streets is finally scheduled to open this month.
The $75 million, 20-story tower will include 150 apartments, a community center, a preschool, and health-care offices.
The building, first conceived as Eastern Tower, was originally planned with 22 percent of its units being affordable. When the Crane opens this month, three apartments — or 2 percent — will be set aside as subsidized housing. The rest will be listed at market-rate prices: from $1,483 a month for a studio to $2,796 for a two bedroom.
The lower floors of Crane Chinatown will include retail on the street level; a community center that includes a gym that could be converted to a banquet facility on the second floor; a preschool that’s moving from 11th and Spring Garden Streets on the third; and offices intended for bilingual health-care providers on the fourth and fifth, said John W. Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. (PCDC), the neighborhood group that acted as the developer.
“The number-one priority for this project is the community center," Chin said. "The high price of construction required us to change the programming on the housing, and [that] allowed us to keep the community center and program space intact.”
In 2012, the affordable apartments were going to be “self-subsidized,” Chin said. “The project did not have outside funds like the housing trust fund or low-income housing tax credits which normally subsidizes affordable housing.”
As time went on, he said, it “was no longer financially feasible due to construction costs.”
PCDC received a $5 million grant under the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, Chin said. According to the state eligibility requirements, the RACP grants are for economic development projects, expected to increase employment and generate economic activity, and may include projects with cultural, historic, recreational or civic significance. Chin didn’t respond to questions about the rent for the affordable units.
Chin noted that the PCDC has been the major provider of affordable housing in the neighborhood since 1982, having created 300 units. This year, 13 affordable apartments just north of Spring Garden will be completed, he said; three are currently available, six will be by the end of summer, and four will open in the fall.
Prioritizing the community center was critical, Chin said, because there are no public recreation centers in Chinatown or Chinatown North, which is what PCDC calls the area north of Vine Street between Eighth and 13th Streets.
In fact, Chin said, the need for a community center was documented as far back as a 1975 Chinatown urban design plan. “Gathering spaces are needed which are not tied to specific secular institutions but to Chinatown as a whole,” said the report by Gluck & Chadbourne Associates.
“We need a place, we need a hub, for services and programs,” said Sarah Yeung, a community advocate and member of the board of the On Lok House and Senior Center. "Having been without a public park for so long, without a library, we have lacked that space except for churches, and they have been such important anchors. There’s an understanding that church plays an important role, but they can’t play that role for everybody. "
Questions about the lack of affordable housing at Crane Chinatown came up at a contentious public hearing on the proposed Callowhill Business Improvement District last month. The PCDC had opposed the BID, having raised concerns that non-English-speaking property owners hadn’t been sufficiently included in discussions. It also warned that the BID would impose a levy on residential owners within the boundaries, and proposed its own BID where only business owners would be taxed. In an earlier fight for a neighborhood improvement district, PCDC voiced the worry that the district would lead to fewer housing options for low-income residents.
“Given that the PCDC’s Crane building has 150 units with rents between $1,500 and $2,800 a month, their affordable housing cry rings a bit hollow,” Callowhill resident Sonya Shiflet testified at the June 25 hearing.
At the June meeting, some Callowhill residents also criticized PCDC for having once opposed the Rail Park, but now is listing the park — built on the old Reading viaduct — as one of the neighborhood amenities in its advertising for Crane Chinatown.
On Wednesday, Chin said PCDC’s concerns about the Rail Park years ago “were always about inclusion and engagement. If you build a space, you need to build it with everyone in mind.”
For example, he said, the park opened with no bilingual signs. He said there still are no signs in Chinese.
“We’re taking baby steps,” Chin said, “and working with the Friends [of the Rail Park] group to try to build a relationship and try to create programming that is inviting to all.”