A pair of developers are overhauling 48th and Brown Streets in the Mill Creek section of Philadelphia with two rental complexes that, when construction is completed, will total 120 units.
When a venture of Abington-based B & T Home Builders Inc. acquired the 2-acre industrial plot at 800-820 N. 48th St. in 2007, the company heard from skeptics.
"Everyone thought I was crazy," said Hillel Tsarfati, a B & T cofounder.
Situated two blocks from the Lucien E. Blackwell Homes, alongside a mix of well-kept rowhouses and vacant properties, West Village at 800 N. 48th St. is the largest private residential development in Mill Creek in recent history. The neighborhood is loosely defined by Market Street to the south, Girard Avenue to the north, and 44th and 52d Streets to the east and west.
"The community is happy that the new construction is going up and adding a little momentum in the area for new developers to come," said Angela Simon, community coordinator of the Mill Creek Community Partnership.
The size of available parcels made the area more appealing than other neighborhoods, said Tsarfati, who previously built smaller projects on the 900 block of Front Street in Northern Liberties and at 16th and South Streets.
Investment by other parties, such as Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's recent construction of the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center at 4865 Market St., reinforces the idea that West Philadelphia neighborhoods beyond University City are ripe for development, said B & T cofounder Moshe Barazani.
Longtime residents expect those same factors to attract others, generating concerns about gentrification, which has already caused turmoil in other evolving city neighborhoods, Simon said.
"The community feels they are going to be priced out of all the new construction," she said.
West Village's 86 bi-level apartments, each of which offers one garage space, range from about 1,500 to 2,200 square feet, with monthly rental rates starting at $1,500.
Though the dollar amount may seem high to those established in Mill Creek, the price per square foot is low, Tsarfati said, especially considering the amenities. Each unit is equipped with a washer and dryer, and residents in the apartment occupying the top two floors of the four-story duplexes have access to a roof deck. A shuttle service ferries tenants between the gated West Village community and the universities and hospitals nearby.
Of the 34 completed units, 27 are occupied, Barazani said.
Young professionals who work in Center City and graduate students from nearby University City make up the bulk of the renters, Tsarfati said.
The second phase of construction is under way. Tsarfati estimated that 26 more units, a mix of three, four, and five bedrooms, will be ready for renters by the end of February, with the remaining 26 complete by spring 2015.
A separate entity will begin converting the warehouse at 4800 Brown St., vacant more than 50 years, into 34 loft-style apartments in March, said Barazani, principal of MB Crafters Inc., which is headquartered in Abington.
Since West Village has multi-bedroom apartments, Brown Street Lofts will bring more one- and two-bedroom options to the area, he said. Monthly rent will average about $1,100 for an apartment, which also includes a parking space.
Simon said she welcomes the alleviation of local blight and acknowledged that the projects must be financially beneficial to the developers. She added that she hopes rents at future multifamily properties will be more in line with income levels of Mill Creek's current residents.
"It is a good thing," she said, "but people want to have a fair shot at housing."