Developer Bart Blatstein and caterer Joseph Volpe say they have signed a contract with Exelon Corp. to buy the former Delaware Station electric plant on the Delaware River in the city's Fishtown section.
The property has a 1,000-foot stretch of waterfront and includes a pier.
"We envision two boutique hotels, each leading into their own ballrooms with 55-foot-high ceilings," said Volpe, owner of Cescaphe Event Group, which organizes 600 wedding receptions a year at its five Philadelphia venues.
"It's a one-of-a-kind property," said Blatstein, best known for the Piazza at Schmidts and other housing-and-retail projects that have helped transform some of the city's older and grittier neighborhoods.
In time, the site might include river-view apartments and a marina, Blatstein said.
The partners have known each other since they were growing up in Northeast Philadelphia. Volpe said Blatstein has partnered with him in developing some of his wedding venues since he catered an event at Blatstein's home in 2002.
"When you hang out with Bart, it's always exciting," Volpe said.
Blatstein said the partners are not planning a retail center or any industrial uses. He and Volpe would not comment on the price, pending the sale closing. They have started talking to banks, Volpe added.
Exelon spokesman Robert Judge confirmed that the company, parent of Peco Energy, has made a sale agreement, but would not confirm the identity of the buyer or the price.
Judge said at least five serious bidders expressed interest in the property after the Binswanger real estate agency offered it for sale last fall. Exelon and Blatstein hope to close the deal in March.
Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for commerce and development, said the city is hoping the former plant is renovated and put back to use.
"Blat is taking on a really amazing project," Greenberger said. "We always thought it could be an event-type place."
Greenberger said the plant is probably zoned as industrial, but said that should not be a problem.
"If there's a viable re-use, we will work with them to get the appropriate zoning," he said.
The property has 300,000 square feet of vacant buildings, including a power plant designed by architect John T. Windrim, who also designed the Franklin Institute. The buildings were constructed by the Philadelphia Electric Co. shortly after World War I on the site of 1800s-era shipyards. There are an additional 16 acres, some of which is underwater.
Inquirer architecture columnist Inga Saffron noted in a recent piece about the site that former electric plants have become art museums, such as the Tate in London; dance halls, as in Baltimore; and office centers.
One such office complex is in Chester, though that old power plant, converted 10 years ago, is half-vacant.
Blatstein and Volpe first collaborated on the former Imperial movie house on Second Street, which they turned into Cescaphe Ballroom, and a second Northern Liberties venue, Tendenza.
Volpe's group also organizes parties at the Down Town Club in the Public Ledger Building, 600 Chestnut St., and the Curtis Center next door.