Developer Ori Feibush has acquired the site of the former Frankford Chocolate Factory on the north side of Washington Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets in South Philadelphia, and plans to raze most of the historic structure to make way for apartments, townhouses, and stores.
Feibush paid $15.5 million for the nearly 170,000-square-foot building on 2.3 acres Monday, he said in an interview. Zoning permits to demolish the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, were issued last week.
The developer said his $60 million proposal would be a big step toward transforming Washington Avenue, west of Broad Street, from a strip of warehouses and blighted industrial buildings into a dense commercial and residential corridor, binding the revitalized communities of Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze to the north and south of the property.
"It is the true connective tissue between both neighborhoods," he said.
Alan Greenberger, the city's former deputy mayor for economic development, said the project appears to make sense for the site, because it can be supported by Washington Avenue's industrial scale and would help the artery move toward hosting a more diverse array of uses.
"Washington Avenue is a big street," said Greenberger, now a fellow with the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University. "It can take the density."
Feibush said he would seek to have the chocolate factory site rezoned from its current industrial-use designation, which will require his team to present the project to the South of South Neighborhood Association, a community organization.
SOSNA said in an emailed statement that the group sees the property's redevelopment "as an opportunity to enhance our community, given the size and central location of the site" and that the group looks forward to sharing members' priorities with Feibush.
Feibush's collaborators at the former factory are Robert Roskamp, with whom he is also partnering on projects including the redevelopment of the former site of the Royal Theater on South Street, and Howard Silverman, developer of a 46-unit townhouse project near 20th and Wharton Streets.
Their proposal for the chocolate factory site calls for 176 apartments above 22,000 square feet of retail space along Washington Avenue in a five-story structure that incorporates a section of the existing property at the corner with 22nd Street, from which its smokestack rises.
To the north of the apartment building, Feibush plans a pedestrian way that continues League Street through an area now occupied by the bulk of the existing building. Twenty condo duplexes — totaling 40 units — are proposed along that thruway.
The northern edge of the development site, along Kimball Street, meanwhile, would accommodate 22 townhouses.
A 176-space underground garage beneath the apartment building would be entered at 22nd Street and exited at 21st Street. Each for-sale unit would have a parking spot of its own.
Feibush said he's seen strong demand at other area projects for the type of condo and townhouse unit that he's planning, while the apartments are aimed at renters who want to be in central Philadelphia but can't afford the luxury-level accommodations that dominate the city center's new inventory.
"We're seeing insatiable demand for this type of product," he said.
The project represents the latest attempt at redeveloping the former factory, which was built in phases over more than a century starting in 1865, when it began life as the Howell & Brothers Wallpaper Hangings Manufactory.
In its most recent incarnation as a production facility for Frankford Candy & Chocolate Co., the factory is said to have been one of the nation's biggest producers of chocolate Easter bunnies.
The first redevelopment proposal for the site came from New York-based property mogul Truong Dinh Tran, who bought the property in 2007, two years after Frankford Candy & Chocolate moved to Northeast Philadelphia. Tran died in 2012 before he could bring to fruition his plans to renovate the building into a Vietnamese-themed residential, retail, and cultural complex.
In 2015, the property was acquired for $7.8 million by a Kennett Square-based group from a court-appointed receiver liquidating Tran's assets. That group proposed 20 townhouses and 150 apartments at the site in collaboration with University City-based U3 Ventures and architect Cecil Baker before selling the property to Feibush.
Although the former factory is listed on the national register, meaning a redevelopment plan that preserves the building would be eligible for tax credits, Feibush said most of the structure has deteriorated to a level where its full rehabilitation would not be feasible, so he is focusing preservation efforts on the smokestack portion.
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections on Friday issued a zoning permit for the building's demolition, despite a pending application for its placement on the city's own Register of Historic Places, which would, under most circumstances, have offered it some protections from demolition.
L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss said in an email that the permit was granted after the building was deemed imminently dangerous.
The building's nomination to the Philadelphia historic register came from Dennis Carlisle, a real estate agent and aficionado of the city's historic buildings who was subsequently hired to direct acquisitions at Feibush's real estate company OCF Realty LLC.
Carlisle said he nominated the building based on its history and outside appearance but realized after seeing its interior that it was largely beyond repair.
"Even from a layman's point of view, it seemed like it's over," he said. "Anyone who walks through there would be able to figure that out."