The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia hopes to get a second opinion on the structural soundness of the Frankford Chocolate Factory building on Washington Avenue in what amounts to a last-ditch effort to save the historic property from the wrecking ball.
Preservation Alliance executive director Paul Steinke said he's asked the building's new owner, developer Ori Feibush, to let him tour the property with a structural engineer to see whether it is actually in bad enough condition to warrant its immediate demolition as a safety hazard.
Feibush, who completed his $15.5 million purchase of the 2101 Washington Ave. property Monday, received a zoning permit for the demolition last week after the Department of Licenses and Inspections deemed it imminently dangerous, based on studies by the developer's engineers.
An engineering report contradicting that assessment may sway the department to reconsider its decision and perhaps hold off on issuing the separate building permit that Feibush needs to begin work clearing the property, Steinke said.
"I think that's our last best hope: to demonstrate that this property isn't ready to fall down and is not a danger to anyone," he said.
Feibush's proposal calls for the demolition of most of the nearly 170,000-square-foot structure to make way for a five-story retail and apartment building, townhouses and duplex condo units.
Under the plan, all that would remain of the existing building would be a section at the corner with 22nd Street from which its smokestack rises. The portion would be rehabilitated and integrated into the project's apartment structure.
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 a wallpaper plant. Its final manufacturing tenant was the Frankford Candy & Chocolate Co., which moved operations to Northeast Philadelphia in 2005.
The building's owner before Feibush, a Kennett Square-based development group, this year successfully petitioned for the building to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, which qualified its redevelopment for federal tax credits if done in a manner that preserves its historic character.
It was also nominated for placement on the city's own Register of Historic Places by 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.
That nomination would under most circumstances have offered the building some protections from demolition, but for L&I's ruling that the building is an immediate danger to the public.
Feibush said he is open to touring the building with an engineer but is confident that his own experts — with the engineering firms Pennoni and Orndorf & Associates — accurately assessed the property's dangerous condition.
"There has not been any independent analysis by any engineering firm that suggests this building can be saved," he said. "I expect to begin demolishing it sooner rather than later."