There was always something unusual about the plan to erect a single row of high-end townhouses on the sliver of land between Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park and the Rivers Casino parking lot. Unlike most developments in Philadelphia, the houses did not front onto a public street, and instead treated the park’s sloping lawn and waterfront vista as their own private preserve. Maybe that’s why the project’s developers could boast back in 2019 that they had received advance offers of $1.5 million for several houses.
Today, the only occupants of this Delaware waterfront development are squatters. The 18 homes sit half-built, their green insulation material flapping in the wind. Construction stopped even before the pandemic began, and the building permits are now expired. The two houses closest to the Delaware waterfront trail were blackened in a fire that lit up the Fishtown skyline just before dawn Oct. 8.
That fire was the final straw for Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses & Inspections. On Tuesday, the agency selected a contractor to demolish all 18 houses, in what may be the city’s first instance of luxury blight removal. Karen Guss, a department spokesperson, said the firm will begin taking down the structures in the next several days. The bill will go to the developer, New York’s Gotham Bedrock, although the company has declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is fighting with its lender, Sharestates, in court.
Guss said the city had declared the site unsafe immediately after the fire and asked Sharestates, a real estate finance company based in Great Neck, N.Y., to submit a plan for securing the houses. When Sharestates failed to act, L&I decided the city’s only option was to raze the luxury development itself. Most likely, the upper floors will be removed and the concrete foundations left in place.
How a waterfront project managed to fail in Philadelphia’s sizzling housing market remains a mystery to the city’s development community and Fishtown residents alike. “This should have been a slam dunk,” observed Greg Hill, a developer who is building 500 houses a bit farther north on the river, at Cumberland Street. “They did all the hard work of pouring the foundations and getting the project out of the ground. Why stop there?”
The project had already received all the necessary city approvals for construction when Gotham bought the 1.5-acre site from Shovel Ready Projects, a Philadelphia developer, in 2017 for $7 million. The deal even included an architectural design by Abitaire Design Studio. While Gotham suffered a brief delay after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found that it had failed to obtain a riverbank stabilization permit, the matter was quickly resolved, according to Kevin Maley, the corps’ chief of enforcement for the region.
Gotham, which boasted of its success with several Brooklyn projects, nevertheless got off to a slow …….