A landmark of the city’s maritime past, Edward Corner Marine Merchandize Warehouse, has been granted a reprieve, however brief. At Wednesday night’s Fishtown Neighborhood Association’s zoning meeting neighbors voted overwhelmingly against developer Michael Samschick’s proposals for redeveloping 1100 & 1212 North Delaware Avenue, which include the demolition of the historic shipping goods warehouse at Shackamaxon Street and Delaware Avenue to be replaced with high-rise apartments. The neighborhood decision is likely to mean that the project, which is to include more than 200 housing units, won’t gain favor with the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and Civic Design Review board. That body typically follows the FNA’s lead.
Samschick has taken on the role of Delaware Avenue’s master planner and developer. His Penn Treaty Village properties stretch along Delaware from the park proper to Fairmount Avenue, and he’s associated with the adaptive reuse of the large warehouses at Front and Brown for the high-end PENNTHOUSES lofts. His most recent project is the conversion of the old Ajax Metal building at Frankford and Delaware into a large-scale entertainment venue for Live Nation. Samschick, who isn’t unsensitive to historic buildings, has engaged Janice Woodcock of Woodcock Design, an architect and former head of the City’s Planning Commission, who is known for her work in historic preservation and adaptive reuse with a portfolio that including the Crane Arts Building, the Delong Building at 13th and Chestnut Streets, and the Blue Bell Tavern. So far his waterfront work has not only resulted in the reclamation of the handsome Ajax Metal building, but also two large refrigerated warehouses, now used for housing. This is why his proposal to tear down the Edward Corner Rope Building comes as a surprise.
When Hidden City asked Samschick why he was okay with knocking it down, especially given his adaptive reuse elsewhere along Delaware, he replied, “I love that building, but we don’t think there’s any way we can preserve it.” He went on to state that to enable the vehicular circulation patterns he wanted, the parking entrance for the new tower had to be on Shackamaxon, which meant taking down Corner Rope.
The Current Proposal
Samschick envisions interlocking projects on three parcels. Along Delaware Avenue from Shackamaxon to Marlborough Streets (1100 North Delaware), he plans a high-rise apartment building complete with underground parking, retail facing Delaware Avenue, artfully designed town homes along Allen Street, a large amenity deck, and a thirteen-story apartment tower.
Across the street, on a triangular parcel currently occupied by an outlet furniture warehouse at 1212 North Delaware Avenue, he proposes a six-story apartment building, also with a retail ground floor, as well as impeccable views of Penn Treaty Park.
Samschick plans to turn the empty lots along Marlborough Street between Richmond and Allen Streets into a small parking lot for the smaller apartment development.
Predictably, parking was the major concern at the community meeting. Samschick was adamant that his plan created a one-to-one parking ratio. In fact, that was why the projects are interlinked. There was no space for onsite parking in the smaller development and the lot at Richmond and Marlborough wouldn’t have enough spaces for it. The overflow parking ended up in the larger proposal at Delaware Avenue and Shackamaxon Street.
Even so, this prompted questions about the office and retail parking. Samschick alluded to his ownership of some parcels under I-95, and more concerns arose, including what seemed to be a mix-up between his parcels–commercial parking down by Frankford and Richmond Streets and neighborhood parking up by Girard and Richmond Streets as well as on to the old railroad viaduct by Lehigh Avenue.
No one in attendence seemed to be able to get on the same page about parking. Samschick and community members made wildly divergent claims about the Parking Authority’s plans for Allen Street, to the point where, in desperation, the developer said, “We should all go there together and make you tell us what we need to do.”
Neighbors also found Samschick’s answers to their questions on the retail lackluster, particularly because he hadn’t yet secured a single tenant. Several people said the neighborhood needed a supermarket. The developer countered that a grocery store wouldn’t fit on the available parcels. Others were concerned about big-box retail needing even more parking. A final group felt that the retail was just a sop, an extra amenity added so he could get even more density out of the site.
Community hostility for the proposals was palatable. The pervasive sense in the room was that plans for the project was overbuilt and that the developer was trying to cram too much into the parcel–that he was just trying to grab as much space as he could. A community member pointed out that, at 13 floors, the proposal was significantly higher than the Central Delaware Advocacy Group’s 100-foot height limit.
A series of smaller buildings might be more digestible for the community. Instead of trying to handle parking on-site, perhaps Samschick could centralize all the parking he needs on the lots he controls under I-95, building a deck in the ample vertical space. The underground parking proposed for 1100 North Delaware Avenue, typically a welcome urbanist solution, triggered the community’s negative reaction to the project because it indicated high density. Take away the submerged parking and perhaps you can save the Corner Rope building. If that’s the case, the developer might revisit an earlier proposal for a diner in the old building, especially given the success of food-driven reuses at Frankford Hall, the Barcade, and La Colombe nearby.