Developer Ori Feibush has again revised his plans for an apartment building at the site of the former Frankford Chocolate Factory in South Philadelphia and now is advancing a proposal that would demolish what’s left of the historic candy-making complex.
Feibush said late last week that he decided his previous plan to preserve parts of the factory for integration into the proposed 260-unit apartment building no longer made sense because of the cost and the limits it would impose on how the property is developed.
Under the previous plan, for example, Feibush said he would not have been able to design a building with enough ground-floor space to accommodate the CVS drugstore that is to occupy one of the project’s two retail spaces. The other will be occupied by a branch of the German-based discount grocery chain Aldi.
The newly reconceived project will be "a historic-industrial-looking building that ... can check the boxes of a lot of things needed in the community, things we couldn’t do if the building was held on to,” he said.
The 170,000-square-foot chocolate factory complex was built in phases over more than a century starting in 1865, when it began life as the Howell & Brothers Wallpaper Hangings Manufactory.
Feibush demolished much of the plant last spring after it was deemed imminently dangerous, but he said at the time that he intended to keep its signature smokestack.
Months later, after engineering studies showed the smokestack to be in worse condition than thought, he said he would also demolish the chimney but preserve the early 20th-century building at the corner of 22nd Street and Washington Avenue from which it rises. A four-story facade of another part of the plant along 22nd Street dating from the 1860s also was to have been incorporated into the project.
But once design work got underway, Feibush said, he decided that those parts of the existing building ought to be demolished, too.
Their placement, he said, would make it more difficult to plan passages into the project’s underground parking lot and would have left space for only 5,000 square feet of retail on the building’s western corner, less than the 14,000 required to secure CVS as a tenant there. Aldi’s lease calls for a 25,000-square-foot store.
“As we continued to look at this project here, I struggled to see the historic value of spending incredible amounts of money to [preserve existing facades] when we can build something that’s far more appropriate for the site,” he said.
Feibush said he hoped to present his revised plan soon to the Philadelphia Historical Commission, which approved an earlier version, with the aim of starting work on the $70 million project in spring 2020.
Bob Grammer, vice president for the Aldi division that covers eastern Pennsylvania, said in an email that he had no immediate information to share about the potential for a store at the Washington Avenue site.