From Family Court to elegant hotel?

With 15 stories' worth of steel beams in place for a new Family Court building at 15th and Arch Streets, city development officials can shift more attention to another major project - turning the old Family Court at 18th and Vine Streets into something more than another vacant building when the court moves into new quarters next year.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell had no doubt what would happen to the old court building when he committed $200 million in state funds for the new courthouse in 2010.

The old courthouse, originally completed in 1940 by the Depression-era Works Projects Administration, was destined to become "the most exciting, glamorous hotel," Rendell said - just like the elegant Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, the mid-18th century building that was the model for the Philadelphia courthouse.

Last month, officials from the city and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) picked five development teams to compete for the chance to buy the building and make the conversion happen.

They're scheduled to submit proposals by July 10 for what the specifications describe as "a hospitality project."

The primary goal, according to the city's request for proposals, is to "create a unique and exciting destination along the Parkway Museums District and spur additional development in the surrounding neighborhood."

"The preferred development program provides public uses at the street level such as retail and restaurants, meeting spaces, lobbies and other uses . . . with a hotel use for the upper stories of the Family Court Building," the request states.

A select group of city officials will evaluate the proposals and begin more detailed negotiations with one or more of the development groups, hoping to sign an agreement that will allow the winning bidder to take possession of the building as soon as Family Court has moved.

"I can see lots of opportunities in it," said architect Kiki Bolender, chair of the Design Advocacy Group, an independent organization committed to quality design in the region's architecture and planning. "I think it's a space for some really creative interior architecture."

The four-story Family Court building occupies more than two acres, bounded by 18th, 19th, Vine, and Wood Streets, with nearly 250,000 square feet of floor space, according to the city's specifications.

PIDC identified the five groups preparing development proposals as Dranoff Properties, HRI Properties, P & A Associates, Peebles Corp., and Logan Square Holdings, a partnership between developers Jack Noonan and Ken Goldenberg. The list was whittled down from nine developers who responded to a request for qualifications last year.

The Family Court building is a twin of the Free Library building, one block west on Vine Street, so that minimizes the prospects for changing the exterior.

"Any proposed additions should be proposed as an alternative development plan, as the ability to secure approval for such a design may prove difficult," the city's request says. "As the Family Court Building was designed to mirror the Free Library of Philadelphia, even a compatible addition, either vertical or horizontal, may destroy the original architectural intent of the building. A proposal that includes a conspicuous rooftop addition is strongly discouraged."

Other challenges for developers include preservation of 37 interior murals and stained-glass windows created by WPA artists. "Any adaptive reuse of the Family Court Building must incorporate uses which allow these spaces to remain publicly accessible," the request says - in spite of Family Court security arrangements that bar the general public from the building.

The Hôtel de Crillon, on the Place de la Concorde just off the Champs-Élysées, is itself a conversion project.

The building was commissioned in 1758 by King Louis XV to house government offices. But it was purchased by the Duke of Crillon and occupied by his family and heirs from 1788 until 1907 (though commandeered for a period by the Revolution, when the building afforded a direct view of the guillotine that executed Louis XVI).

It was turned into a hotel in 1909. Until it closed in March for a two-year renovation project, the hotel offered 44 suites and 103 guest rooms, starting at $800 a night, breakfast not included.