City Council has approved the sale of the former Provident Mutual Life Insurance Co. building in West Philadelphia, ending months of uncertainty surrounding plans by its would-be owner to convert the property, which had once been on its way to becoming the city’s new police headquarters, into a public health campus.
Members voted 10-2 on Thursday in favor of a plan to sell the 325,000-square-foot building and 13 surrounding acres at 4601 Market St. to Iron Stone Real Estate Partners for $10 million, the website Curbed Philadelphia reported.
The sale came after Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, in whose district the property is located, stepped back from concerns she expressed last year about whether community members had been adequately informed about the plan. Blackwell had introduced the bill authorizing the property’s sale to Iron Stone, but put the legislation on hold before what had been a scheduled as a final vote in December.
She said at a community meeting Wednesday that her reversal was motivated by letters she received supporting Iron Stone’s plan from labor unions, neighborhood groups and nearby institutions, the website PlanPhilly reported.
“We are appreciative that Councilwoman Blackwell brought up the final reading of the ordinance approving the long-awaited redevelopment of 4601 Market Street, and for City Council’s support,” Iron Stone said in an emailr Friday. “We are committed now to advancing this transformative project.”
Council’s action Thursday confirmed an agreement of sale between Iron Stone and the city, which had paid more than $52 million to buy the neoclassical insurance company building and begin renovating it for use by the Police Department. The developer had been selected to buy the site based on plans that include Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia medical offices and a YMCA-operated daycare center.
Councilman Allan Domb, who joined Councilwoman Maria Quinonez-Sanchez in opposing the bill, said during the hearing that he liked Iron Stone’s plan, but he believed the city was selling the land too cheaply at $10 million.
“We had appraisals done, showing the comparable land values of other sales in the area of $107, $108 a foot to $290 a foot,” he said in remarks that his office posted online. “And we’re selling this at $17 a foot.”
Philadelphia’s law department last month denied a request from the Inquirer under the state’s Right to Know Law for copies of any appraisals completed in connection with the property’s sale, citing a provision of the statute that allows such documents to be withheld until a decision is made to proceed with the transactions they are meant to inform.
Mayor James Kenney’s office did not respond to an email from the Inquirer requesting the documents again on Friday — after Thursday’s decisive vote — and seeking comment on Domb’s remarks.
Iron Stone said in its email that it had not reviewed the appraisals, but that the property was sold through a well-publicized process and "a collection of city and neighborhood leaders determined that our offer was the most appropriate one.”
The Provident Mutual building’s namesake occupant moved out in 1983. City Council approved plans under then-Mayor Michael Nutter in 2014 for its conversion into a police headquarters to replace the force’s current home in the dated four-story concrete building at 750 Race St. known as the Roundhouse.