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Viking Mill artist studios set to become 178-unit mixed-use development as current occupants push back

But new owner says pushing back on move-out dates is tricky given other contractual obligations

Rendering of the proposed 178-unit building in East Kensington set to replace Viking Mill.
Rendering of the proposed 178-unit building in East Kensington set to replace Viking Mill.Read moreCourtesy of Scope Commercial Real Estate Services, LLC

Viking Mill, a former factory turned into artist studios in Kensington, has sold for $9.6 million and is slated to become a 178-unit mixed-use development, sparking confusion and pushback from current tenants who must move out by the end of the month.

Located at 2019-53 E Boston St., the 70,000-square foot building has offered studio space for painters, welders, and jewelry makers for almost 15 years — a community credited with helping to revitalize the neighborhood. Urban Axes, which opened in 2016, is slated to close in November as part of the redevelopment, according to Philadelphia Business Journal.

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The five-story building, recognizable by a colorful angel mosaic that adorns the facade, will be turned into luxury units, according to Scope Commercial Real Estate Services LLC. The company facilitated the sale between previous owner Viking Mill Associates LLC and an affiliate of Delaware-based Chatham Bay. Designblendz, a Philadelphia-based architecture firm, worked with the developer to reimagine the site.

The building will feature 9,000 to 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and amenities that include a rooftop terrace with a pool, hot tubs, firepits, and outdoor grill, per Chatham Bay. The building’s timber and masonry structure will be preserved, according to Scope, and the building next door will be semi-attached and built up to match Viking Mill’s height.

The project is expected to be completed by 2024 with work beginning by the end of this year. The construction comes as demand for housing in Fishtown and Kensington continues to increase, according to Scope. The company said it recently sold more than 250 units of multifamily development in these neighborhoods, with 450 more listed and under contract.

“The Viking Mill project will be a focal piece to the quickly developing Fishtown/Kensington neighborhood,” said Scope senior associate Craig Thom.

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Still, the quick development of the area, the haphazard manner in which the sale of the building was announced, and the swift timeline for construction have drawn criticism from more than 40 current tenants, as first reported by Billy Penn.

Occupants say they received letters at the beginning of September saying they had 30 days to move out or they’d be evicted. Soon after, the building’s water was discontinued, only to be restored Thursday.

In an online petition started by current tenant Jen Brown, the Viking Mill is described as one of the few artist studios left in the Fishtown and East Kensington neighborhoods.

Brown, who has found a new space but doesn’t see how they can move out in time, said some tenants are seeking legal help to push for a 90-day notice to vacate. The group is also working with activists and politicians to demand citywide protections for artists who made neighborhoods like Fishtown and Kensington culturally relevant. Not only will artists continue to be displaced if the city doesn’t do more, Brown argued, the neighborhoods they helped transform will suffer, too.

“There is less and less and less anything artistically interesting in this neighborhood and it kills me, it hurts my heart every day to watch the things I fell in love with in this neighborhood fall away because someone has more money than us,” said Brown.

In an email, Patrick Duffy, CEO of Chatham Bay Group, said the company has contractual obligations with its lender and several contractors. Extending the move-out dates for tenants is not a decision they can unilaterally make, “but if we can give people more time than we will,” wrote Duffy.