Philadelphia's Post Bros. property group plans a 350-unit apartment building in the now-decaying shell of a hulking former warehouse in North Philadelphia's Poplar neighborhood, an area that has until now largely evaded the gaze of big developers.
The Post Bros. plan calls for renovating the 10-story industrial structure known as the Quaker building at 900 N. Ninth St. into high-end apartments, with lower-floor retail and office space, company president Matthew Pestronk said in an interview this week. A new parking structure would be built on an adjacent lot with space for about 135 vehicles, he said.
The plan would rehabilitate the blighted 380,000-square-foot property, known for the fading "Quaker" signage painted beside its entrance, while introducing a burst of dense new development in what is now a neighborhood of tidy single-family homes and strip-center retail amid vacant lots.
A few blocks east of the century-old building is the booming neighborhood of Northern Liberties, which has seen some of the recent decades' most intensive new development outside Center City. To the west, investment has been pouring into North Broad Street sites such as developer Eric Blumenfeld's Divine Lorraine and Metropolitan Opera House restoration projects.
Pestronk said the Quaker project would build on that activity, while benefiting from the transit link to other parts of the city via SEPTA's Route 15 trolley line, which runs just to the north on Girard Avenue. His company is under contract to buy the property from Philadelphia Suburban Development Corp., which acquired it in 1998 from the Quaker Commercial Warehousing Co.
"We just see the Quaker building as a continuation of our strategy of investing and creating high-value, luxury product in neighborhoods that don't have it," Pestronk said.
Other Post Bros. holdings include the Garden Court apartments at 47th and Pine Streets in West Philadelphia and the Goldtex building near 12th and Vine Streets north of Center City, best known to some as the site of a dispute with labor leaders opposed to the company's use of nonunion workers for construction.
In the Poplar neighborhood, however, some residents fear that the influx of new apartment dwellers drawn by the Quaker building's revival will drive up neighborhood rents and other expenses, said Diane Monroe, chairwoman of the 14th Ward Democratic Executive Committee, which organized an Aug. 31 community meeting on the plan.
Post Bros. representatives told those at the meeting that Quaker building units would be affordable to renters earning a first-year teacher's salary, Monroe said. That would come out to a minimum of $45,360 a year, according to the School District of Philadelphia's website.
Such rents would likely place the building out of reach for most now living in the neighborhood, with the median yearly household income in the surrounding census tract — largely bounded by Master and Poplar Streets, between Broad and Sixth Streets — at just $14,951, according to 2015 estimates. (The citywide median — half are above; half are below — was estimated at $41,233 a year.)
Pestronk said his company isn't aiming to price anyone out of the building.
"This is not a subsidized or 'affordable' project in any way, but our goal is to make the units as affordable as possible to a wide range of people," he said.
At last month's meeting, community members voted on whether to endorse a Post Bros. request for a zoning variance for the project, which would be built on a property that remained designated for industrial use during a recent area remapping that redesignated other industrial parcels in the area for mixed use.
The vote result will be tallied before Sept. 13, when the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment is scheduled to consider Post Bros. request, Monroe said.
Neighborhood representatives are also hoping to negotiate a so-called community benefits agreement with Post Bros. that obliges the developer to fund scholarships for area schoolchildren, employ nearby residents in the project's construction, and help pay for improvements to the East Poplar Playground south of the Quaker building, among other provisions, Monroe said.
"We're not against gentrification," Monroe said. "We understand it's here. But we don't want it to be at the expense of anyone. We want everyone to benefit."