Toll Bros. said it is pausing work on condo projects planned for land it owns in city centers, such as the 24-story tower it has proposed at the former site of four stately buildings it demolished along Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row shopping street.
Toll chief executive Douglas Yearley said in a conference call with analysts last week that the company “has chosen not to start” projects planned on land held by its City Living division “in this environment,” referring to economic uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“We do have some land for future buildings where we have not started any construction,” Yearley said. “And right now we are just sitting on the land.”
Toll’s decision to put off construction means that the fenced-off vacant lot on the 700 block of Sansom Street’s southeastern section may remain indefinitely. Before the developer razed the 19th- and early 20th-century structures at that site starting late last year, they had been occupied by jewelers and other businesses.
“We were worried all along that the buildings would come down and then conditions would change and nothing would ever get built there,” said Paul Steinke, executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, which had fought to stop the buildings’ demolition. “No one ever anticipated that a global pandemic might be responsible for creating that condition, but here we are.”
Toll’s City Living unit, which builds high-end condo towers in city centers, disclosed its plan for the site in August 2016, prompting the Preservation Alliance and others to nominate some of the targeted properties for Philadelphia’s historic register.
But after Toll cleared its final design reviews for the tower in 2018 and the Preservation Alliance’s challenges failed in court, few obstacles remained in Toll’s path.
Shortly before beginning demolition work last year, Toll spent about $10 million to purchase four buildings spanning 702-710 Sansom St. and a connected property at 128 S. Seventh St., city property records show.
The City Living division also has land in New York and Seattle that it has decided not to immediately develop due to the health crisis, which has led to uncertainty surrounding future demand while interfering with the marketing of units in its completed buildings, Yearley said during the conference call.
“As is true for most development in this region, Toll Bros.’ Sansom Street project has been impacted by COVID-19," Toll City Living spokesperson Timothy Spreitzer said in a statement. "We are still proceeding through the permitting process, and we look forward to bringing a beautiful project to Jewelers Row.”