Developer Brown Hill plans to begin work next month on a long-planned apartment building that could strengthen the link between Old City and the Delaware River waterfront, helping to overcome the isolating effects of the highway that divides them.
An Aug. 5 groundbreaking is planned for the 205 Race St. project, a sleek 17-story glass and dark metal tower to be built on the west side of the Race Street Connector, a passage beneath I-95.
The project is part of a cluster of developments that backers hope will invigorate the area by creating a solid base of residents and visitors on both sides of the interstate.
It fits right in to a plan to connect the neighborhoods - which have been divided by I-95 for so long - with the river, said Greg Hill, a Brown Hill partner. "This is one of the points of connection," he said
Situated beside the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, 205 Race joins PMC Property Group's 250-unit One Water Street project, which is under construction on the river side of the underpass.
The nearby Race Street Pier, landscaped by the designer of New York's High Line park, and the FringeArts building, a historic pump house converted into a theater and restaurant complex, already have started drawing visitors to the once-neglected edge of the city, said Tom Corcoran, president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.
Work will begin next year on a $1.3 million upgrade to the underpass, with lighting, bike lanes, and other amenities along its northern wall, Corcoran said.
"For us, it's exciting because it adds to the critical mass of people who are going to be living in the Old City-Waterfront neighborhood," Corcoran said of 205 Race St.'s apartment tower.
Rents will range from about $1,900 a month for a studio to $3,500 for two bedrooms, though 10 percent of the apartments will be discounted by about half for lower-income tenants through a deal with the city that allowed the developer to include more units.
The $65 million project is moving forward after the developers secured a $45 million construction loan from Citizens Bank.
Brown Hill's initial plan for an apartment building at the site, which it acquired in 2001, was sunk by last decade's housing downturn.
Later attempts were delayed by challenges from neighbors, who opposed the building's height, and by the owner of a billboard that would have been partly obscured from some angles by the structure.
It was not until 2013 that the developer had all its entitlements in place, but it took until now to complete the design and put its funding package together, partner Jeffrey Brown said.
The timing also coincides with surging demand for high-end rental properties in Center City, reflected in the success of the 2116 Chestnut apartments and the Icon at 1616 Walnut St., said Ed Terry, Citizens Bank's regional executive for commercial real estate finance.
"This is kind of the eastern part of that," Terry said. "It's providing something in Old City that they haven't seen."