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New studios and galleries part of South Philly art school's development plan

Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia is seeking a development partner for a nearly half-acre site south of its main facility, where it plans to build a new studio and gallery building.

The school, at 719 Catharine St. in the Bella Vista neighborhood, has begun fielding expressions of interest from developers and plans to tour potential partners though the site on Dec. 11, according to an email Monday from spokesman Dominic Mercier.

The new studio-and-gallery building would occupy the north end of the parcel, facing Fleisher's existing facility in a former church.

Fleisher anticipates extending a 99-year lease for the remaining portion of the lot, now used as student parking, according to a notice sent to potential developers. Uses mentioned in the notice include apartments or a school, either of which would be encouraged to integrate Fleisher as an amenity.

Founded in 1898, Fleisher is one of the country's oldest nonprofit community art schools, according to its website. The proposed new building is part of a 25-year master plan that Atkin Olshin Schade Architects recently completed for the school, Mercier said.

Anticipated is a building of 12,000 to 16,000 square feet, which will feature nine art studios, a street-level gallery space, a lecture room, and administrative offices, he said.

"It is a prime opportunity for Fleisher to set itself up for future growth while enhancing our public face," Mercier said.

Fleisher also has been in talks with Philadelphia officials about possibly combining its vacant property with at least part of an adjacent city-owned parking lot to make the awkwardly shaped parcel easier to develop, according to the notice.

Any lost parking spaces would be made up elsewhere in the project, the notice says.

The property is zoned for small-scale mixed-use development, though Fleisher is "open to" discussions about seeking zoning changes, according to the notice.