Philadelphia Stories: Three Steps Toward the New Historic City

September 2010Newsletters In the Zone

In the past few months, we have had the opportunity to represent clients in three very different ventures, each of which sheds light on the history, and the future, of the City of Philadelphia and the entire Delaware Valley.

The longest-running of the three is the acquisition and redevelopment of portions of the former Philadelphia Civic Center site by our client, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. CHOP is widely recognized as the finest children’s hospital in the United States, and with that recognition has come major growth and a pressing need for clinical, research and office space. CHOP’s main hospital campus abuts the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and space for growth nearby has hence been hard to find. Directly across Civic Center Boulevard from both institutions was the Philadelphia Civic Center, a collection of tired, older buildings that fell into total disuse when the Pennsylvania Convention Center was completed in 1993. Working closely with the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development, CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania each acquired a portion of the Civic Center site. Many months of hard negotiations were needed before CHOP and the University could close on the acquisition of their respective portions of the site. The old buildings then took more months to demolish, followed by yet more months of construction, with CHOP’s state-of-the-art medical research building, the Colket Translational Research Building, formally opening in June 2010. The entire process—acquisition, development, financing—was spearheaded by Fox lawyers. In coming years, CHOP plans to build a new ambulatory center adjacent to the Colket Center, and with the University actively developing next door, the entire Civic Center property will have been transformed into one of America’s finest medical campuses. Meantime, with an eye to further growth opportunities, CHOP has acquired a string of properties located across the Schuylkill River just south of the South Street bridge for future development.

The second major venture is taking place across the City in Frankford, in Northeast Philadelphia, at another old Philadelphia landmark undergoing radical reinvention: the Frankford Arsenal. The Arsenal was founded in 1816 by the U.S. Army following the War of 1812 to produce ordinance for the armed forces of the United States. It grew steadily over the years, and by the 1940s played a leading role in manufacturing munitions for the Allies in World War II. But by 1980, the Arsenal had outlived its utility for the Army, and the entire enormous site—83 acres with more than 60 buildings—was acquired by Arsenal Associates. In the recent past, the southern side of the Arsenal, where the old Army buildings were better preserved, has been converted by Fox lawyers to condominiums, and two major charter schools are now operating in the heart of the campus. The northern half of the Arsenal, with its older, more decrepit buildings, needed a different approach, however. Its location—adjacent to exit and entrance ramps for Interstate 95—makes it ideal for redevelopment as a major retail center, to be called The Shopping Center at the Arsenal. In July 2010, at a ceremony attended by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and many other dignitaries, the demolition of the buildings in the northern half of the Arsenal officially commenced.

As with CHOP at the Civic Center, the land being redeveloped for The Shopping Center at the Arsenal is being recycled from an obsolete to contemporary use, with no displacement of residents or loss of farmers’ fields or open space. As pressure grows to limit suburban sprawl, developments like these are even more important.

Finally, the third venture is smaller in physical scope but encompasses even more of the history of Philadelphia, in this case essentially all of it: the top-to-bottom renovation of the Philadelphia History Museum’s historic Atwater Kent building at 7th and Market Streets. Built in 1817 by John Haviland, one of Philadelphia’s premier architects, the Museum’s building was the original home of the Franklin Institute. It was acquired by industrialist Atwater Kent in 1934, when the Franklin Institute relocated to its home on the Parkway, and devoted to use as the City’s history museum. The building has ever since housed the City’s official history collection, encompassing thousands of artifacts. I have led the reconstruction effort as president of the board of trustees of the Museum for the past three years. While the renovation was conceived and designed, the necessary funds were raised, and at last the work went ahead, with completion scheduled for August 2010. The Philadelphia History Museum will then have a museum quality, climate-controlled environment in which to display such iconic objects as the massive double desk where George Washington worked as President of the United States.

Three projects, all steeped in history, all completely contemporary, all pointing toward the brighter future of the City of Philadelphia.

For more information, please contact Gregory J. Kleiber at 215.299.2874 or [email protected].