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PHA breaks ground on $45M N. Philly headquarters

The planned five-story building would replace the agency's Center City location. It will occupy about 136,000 square feet on a triangular site.

Artist’s rendering of new Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Artist’s rendering of new Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters at Ridge Avenue and Jefferson Street.Read moreBLT Architects

Construction of a $45 million Philadelphia Housing Authority headquarters in North Philadelphia is officially underway.

The planned five-story building in North Philadelphia will replace the agency's Center City location and occupy about 136,000 square feet on a triangular site on the east side of Ridge Avenue between Jefferson and Master Streets.

Officials touted the project at a groundbreaking Tuesday as the largest economic development project to land in the area since the 1960s and one of the largest PHA has undertaken in recent years.

"This is a real shot in the arm for this neighborhood," said City Council President Darrell L. Clarke.

The neighborhood, locally known as Sharswood-Blumberg, is in the midst of a $500 million redevelopment by PHA. The headquarters is meant to act as an economic driver for rebuilding the community.

The glass and terracotta building will house many of PHA's 1,200 employees. A ground floor will have a bank and a cafe. The location will also feature 50 parking spaces and 18 Indego bike-share parking docks along Jefferson.

Designs for the building, to be constructed by Shoemaker Construction Co. and Synterra Ltd., came under harsh scrutiny last fall, when the city's Civic Design Review Committee lambasted the plan. Some committee members argued that the square office building was too "suburban looking" and ignored the triangular shape of the space it would occupy. The committee asked the designers to consider its suggestions and return. At a meeting in October, the committee approved a design similar to the original.

PHA Director Kelvin Jeremiah said the groundbreaking represented a triumph over multiple hurdles, from arguments over the design of the building to the process of securing through eminent domain 1,300 properties to make way for the headquarters and new PHA housing.

"Some said this day would never happen. Others were critical of the design. Others said we should move out of here, but let me tell you: We are here and this is happening," Jeremiah said.

Jeremiah said the building is set to be completed in the fall of 2018 and is fully funded through a $30 million bond and $15 million from PHA. The headquarters will become an anchor for the neighborhood transformation plan, which aims to create a mix of 1,200 affordable, market rate, and rental housing units. A supermarket is to open at Ridge and Jefferson in 2018 and PHA recently bought the Vaux High School building, which will reopen to a ninth grade class in the fall.

Mayor Kenney said the development shows the city's commitment to longtime residents in a neighborhood where, a few blocks south, newly constructed, more expensive homes are rapidly rising.

"We can all coexist, but we need to coexist equally, and I think this investment in this spot right now will set down a standard that this neighborhood may change, but it's not going to change everything," Kenney said. "The folks who have lived here … and contributed to this neighborhood will continue to do so."

Harold Reading, 69, has lived on the 2200 block of Ingersoll Street since he was a baby.

Growing up, he said, his block had close to 30 houses on it. Now there are five, scattered among overgrown grassy lots.

"We were all one big happy family; now it's a ghost town," said Reading, who attended the groundbreaking and said he was ecstatic about the development plans. PHA sent him home with one of the ceremonial groundbreaking shovels.

"Look, I was here when the riots happened, and I've seen a whole lot of other things," he said. "I thought the neighborhood was just going to be a forgotten place."