The Durst Organization has paid $10 million for the city-owned lot on the Delaware River waterfront north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, where it plans an apartment tower.
Durst, based in New York, closed on the property last week, about a year after it was selected to purchase the 1.6-acre site by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., the quasi-public agency that guides development along central Philadelphia’s eastern waterfront, company spokesperson Jordan Barowitz said Monday. The site, known as the Vine Street lot, will be Durst’s first Philadelphia project.
The time was needed to commit the developer to a plan that advances the DRWC’s goals for the area, which include drawing more foot traffic to the waterfront and building more public spaces, as well as protecting the site’s buried archaeological treasures.
“We’ve worked very closely with the Durst Organization on this project," DRWC president Joe Forkin said in the release. We “are confident that their plans will create a vibrant mixed-use development that will ensure public access to the waterfront, preserve important historic resources, and add value to residents, businesses and visitors.”
Durst aims to break ground on the 25-story tower with 10,000 square feet of retail space during the first three months of 2021, according to the statement. Barowitz said the retail and residential spaces will be built at an elevation designed to withstand once-in-a-century flooding, based on federal projections for the waterfront site.
The project is being designed by Handel Architects of New York, the firm behind the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton condominium building beside City Hall.
“We look forward to finalizing design in the coming months of an exciting mixed-use development that will create a lively urban environment," Durst president Jonathan “Jody” Durst said in the release.
The property, between Vine and Callowhill Streets on North Christopher Columbus Boulevard, is directly across the street from the assemblage of piers that Durst acquired in 2017, which it has yet to begin developing. Those piers currently house waterfront restaurants including Dave & Buster’s and Morgan’s Pier.
The Vine Street property, which has long been run as a public parking lot by the DRWC, entombs intact structures from its time as a shipyard starting in the late 17th century. Those artifacts include a slipway that was thought by archaeologists in a 1987 dig to be the only example of its kind on the East Coast.
The West Shipyard — named for founder James West — was later buried beneath landfill piled along the banks of the Delaware River as part of mid-19th-century land reclamation work aimed at enlarging the city’s wharves to support larger-scale port operations.
Preservationists have expressed concerns that Durst’s project could disturb those remains, which are thought to be concentrated under the northern section of the property, and have called on officials to consider having the site developed as a historical attraction instead.
In their release, Durst and the DRWC said the developer’s plan will protect the buried artifacts by landscaping the northern three-quarter-acre section of the site for use as a public park, to be designed by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects & Planners of New York.
The public space is also being designed to enhance access to the adjacent Wood Street Steps, a stone stairway between Water and Front Streets directly west of the Vine Street Lot that is the only surviving example of 10 passageways to the waterfront commissioned by William Penn in the early 1700s.