After a long slumber, there’s been a flurry of activity recently at the old Ortlieb’s brewery complex in Northern Liberties. The Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association heard plans December 19th from veteran Philadelphia developer William Vessal to convert the former bottling house at 823 N. American Street into 31 residential rental units with 44 underground parking spaces.
Finding a permanent use for the building has been a long time coming considering the hot NoLibs housing market, which has continued to simmer through the economic downturn. The building has had quite a varied career since Schmidt’s purchased Ortlieb’s in 1981 and closed the plant. Initially, it was the site of Poor Henry’s Brewpub, which also hosted Golden Gloves boxing matches in its second floor hall. Later, it was used for baseball practices, hosted the Fringe Festival Cabaret, and currently houses the Jewish Center of Northern Liberties.
Larry Freedman, head of the NLNA’s zoning committee said the committee had concerns over the the location of the entrance of the parking ramp and a few other details, but is generally supportive of the project.
Vessal said he plans to keep the buildng’s distinctive stainless steel lettering. “It’s a beautiful facade and a pretty property,” he said. Vessal said he is considering applying for designation on the National Register of Historic Places, which would make the project eligible for a 20 percent investment tax credit for rehabbing the structure. “We’ll see if it’s worth it,” said Vessal. “The cost of replacing the windows might be prohibitive.”
Meanwhile, workers were busy boarding up the windows of the older part of the Ortlieb’s complex located across from the bottling plant, on the west side of American Street. The property is owned by Bart Blatstein’s Tower Investments, which submitted plans to rehab the buildings to the NLNA in 2007, but has not pursued that project. Tower hasn’t submitted any new plans for the property to the NLNA, said Freedman, which means they are probably just sealing the building. The buildings have been what’s called VOV–vacant, open and vandalized–for more than a decade. Calls and emails to Tower Investments were not returned.
Notes: Vessal has been busy on the 800 block of American Street over the past two years. He built more than a dozen condos adjacent to the bottling house at the former site of the Lawrence Ritter poultry plant, and in addition to the bottling house conversion, is planning to build nine single-family homes on the west side of American that will run 3,200 square feet and feature two car garages.
Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.