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Riverfront: 'An entire city' at Sheet Metal Workers site?

Blumenfeld plans 1,000+ apartments on 20 acres

Eric Blumenfeld, the Philadelphia developer best known for turning old factories on North Broad St. above Spring Garden into apartments and stores, says he has an agreement to redevelop 20 acres on the Delaware River at the foot of Washington Ave. in partnership with the ground's owner, the Sheet Metal Workers' union Local 19.

"Based on the new zoning, it should turn into an entire city," with 1,000 or more apartments, stores, "waterside dining," and maybe offices on 600,000 sq. ft. between Columbus Ave. and the Delaware, says Blumenfeld. The Delaware River Waterfront Develoment Corp. has a plan to build a trail through the property that would "mimic what exists on the Schuylkill."

"They have been working on that for some time," Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, told me, about the Sheet Metal Workers site. "We have not seen any kind of plans. However, the site is zoned CMX-3, which is a standard commercial mixed-use zoning class all along the central Delaware River front. Think of Old City: that kind of density, that kind of mix of uses. It permits, by right, residential (and) a whole range of institutional uses; a lot of office uses; retail uses; commercial uses. It's pretty much a solid, very urban mixed-use land uses in keeping with the city master plan."

The central Delaware has a target height limit of 200 feet -- around 20 stories -- though the planning commission has negotiated for higher buildings in exchange for open space, for example. A union officer didn't return calls.

Blumenfeld notes his father, the late Jack Blumenfeld, once among the region's busiest apartment developers (Henry on the Park in Andorra, Timberlake in Plymouth Meeting, Main Line Berwyn, Executive House on City Line), "was appointed the developer of Penns Landing under Mayor Frank Rizzo" in the late 1970s. That plan went nowhere (more on that below).

But "a week before (Jack Blumenfeld) died (in 2012), all he could really talk about was the waterfront," Eric Blumenfeld told me. "He had this vision, it should be a lifestyle community." While Blumenfeld's old apartment complexes were clustered near train stations, "the world is changing," his told his son. The old man came to believe that "the idea people spend an hour and a half going to and from work was the past. People should walk to work. They should be in the gym every day."

Eric wants to add office space: "In the grand vision there has to be offices." Else where do they walk to work? But Blumenfeld also recognizes there's no shortage of office space along nearby Independence Square and in Center City generally: "I'm not sure the market is there yet." Besides the construction plan, he's still working on financing: "We'll start over the next couple of years. It could take seven or 10 years to build it all out."

The property had been linked with past proposals for the nearby former Foxwoods Casino proposed site, but Blumenfeld says current plans don't link the two.

The elder Blumenfeld's original proposal for Penn's Landing mixed residential and office projects. Rizzo's successor, Mayor Bill Green, nixed that plan. Blumenfeld sued, won $8 milllion in damages, and went on to develop the 1500 Locust and Abbotts Square condos -- only to lose control in the early 1990s when an abortive Atlantic City casino deal forced him to default on other projects. "I lost everything," he recounted in this 2008 USA Today story.

Now it's Eric's turn...