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African American Museum will move to former Family Court building on Ben Franklin Parkway

Four development teams have been shortlisted to submit request for proposals for the historic building.

The old Family Court building at 1801 Vine St.
The old Family Court building at 1801 Vine St.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

The classically styled former Family Court building on the Ben Franklin Parkway has its first tenant lined up for its redevelopment: the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

City officials announced Thursday that the museum will move into the 1801 Vine St. property after it is revamped.

“We’re excited that it will be where it belongs on the Parkway, where literally tens, hundreds of thousands of people traverse on a[n] … annual basis, every year,” said City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, a major proponent of the move. “Everybody knows where the park is, so it’s befitting that the African American Museum is here.”

Clarke said the museum will only need roughly 50,000 square feet of the building, so the remainder of the space’s reimagining remains to be seen. Four developers have been shortlisted to submit requests for proposals for the court, as well as an 88,000-square-foot lot at 1901 Wood St., which sits behind the Free Library.

Ashley Jordan, president of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, said she imagines a “state-of-the-art blockbuster museum” with a theater and a cafe. The move would give the museum almost three times the space it currently has, which Jordan hopes will help the museum beat its current annual attendance of about 80,000 people and make it more competitive with institutions like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Carrying out that vision, however, will require years of fund-raising, which she felt optimistic about.

» READ MORE: City starts new search for developer to revamp historic Family Court building on Parkway

Mayor Jim Kenney said the city would also likely help.

“I’m sure there’ll be some city money in there, deservedly so,” said Kenney. “There’s city money in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, there’s city money in many of these iconic places, and this is just as equal in my mind as any of the other institutions that we support.”

» READ MORE: 13 museums and cultural landmarks that showcase Black history in Philadelphia

Because proposals for the redevelopment have yet to be submitted, the timeline for the project’s completion remains unclear.

Proposals are due by the end of the year. The city will have a better sense of the timeline and cost of the project once those are in, according to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., which is coordinating the selection process.

The building was completed in 1941. The courthouse and its neighbor across the street, the Free Library, are copies of buildings on the Place de la Concorde, a public square in Paris.

Attempts to redevelop the 247,000-square-foot courthouse have stalled in the past. In the late aughts, developers tried to get a head start on the long planning process but backed out because it was unclear when the property would be available. And in 2020, the city broke off an agreement with Peebles Corp. to turn the property into a luxury hotel as the pandemic made future visitor demand uncertain.