Diamond Green Apartments to rise in Temple area

Posted: April 15, 2012

Gregory Reaves and Leslie Smallwood-Lewis stood at the window of a third-floor unit at Diamond Green Apartments just as a SEPTA commuter train pulled away from Temple University Station, bound for Center City.

“See,” Reaves said, smiling. “You couldn’t hear the train, could you? That’s solid construction.”

Undergrads are not known for adhering to a vow of silence, leading many landlords to shun them. Reaves and Smallwood-Lewis believe, however, that quiet surroundings and proximity to the Temple campus will quickly fill their five-story, 92-unit building with 350 paying students.

Together, the two are Mosaic Development Partners, a West Philadelphia firm best known for its January 2011 acquisition of the Blue Horizon boxing arena on North Broad Street for an $18 million hotel-and-restaurant complex with a jazz bar and fitness center.

Former employees of the Goldenberg Group, they also are turning the old Thomas Edison High School at Seventh Street and Lehigh Avenue into 38,000 square feet of retail space.

For the Diamond Green complex, Mosaic is partnering with Orens Bros., developers also involved in the Blue Horizon, and Metamorphosis Community Development Corp., a nonprofit founded in 2005 to represent the interests of the African American neighborhoods surrounding Temple.

Metamorphosis was instrumental in assembling the 0.9-acre site at 10th and Diamond Streets. Orens Bros., in business since 1979, redeveloped 2200 Arch, 444 N. Fourth, and the Pitcairn Building into condominiums and apartments.

The $20 million, 126,000-square-foot mixed-use Diamond Green project, with 12,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, is being financed with a construction loan from Fox Chase Bank and Third Federal Bank, with $7 million in private equity and $750,000 from the city Office of Housing and Community Development’s affordable-housing support program.

Construction began in November and is expected to be completed Aug. 15, Reaves said. Eventually, buildings on a site between the apartment building and Norris Street will be razed and affordable housing built in its place.

Diamond Green is the latest addition to revitalization of the neighborhood east of Broad Street. Finishing touches are being made to the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s Norris Apartments along 11th Street west of Diamond Green.

That 51-unit low-rise complex, designed by architects Blankney Hayes, is on the site of the old Norris Homes high-rise and is the first PHA project to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified, with roofs crowned with solar panels.

Designed by Wulff Architects, Diamond Green is unusual for several reasons, said Scott Orens, the construction manager.

It is the largest modular project thus far in Philadelphia, Orens said: A total of 106 self-contained modules, each weighing about 50,000 pounds and complete with construction materials, fixtures, and furniture, are being lifted into place by crane. The modules, built in the Middleburg, Pa., factory of Professional Building Systems, are linked into mostly four-bedroom/two-bathroom units with furnished kitchens, offices, and common living-room areas. Every floor has a card-operated laundry room, eliminating the need for sacks full of quarters.

The apartments start on the second floor, sitting on a concrete base that will house the retail space, and took just 15 days to build, Orens said.

Each unit will be fully furnished and will come with a flat-screen television, as well as Internet, cable, and WiFi. Utilities are included. Every bedroom will have its own door lock, and each apartment will unlock with a key fob.

Eighty-three units are four-bedroom/two bath and rent for $700 a bedroom; nine are two-bedroom/one bath, renting for $800 a bedroom.

If a prospective renter is short three roommates, some will be arranged, Reaves said.

Fifteen people from the neighborhood were hired to work on the project, about 55 percent of the total workforce, Smallwood-Lewis said.

Reaves and Smallwood-Lewis came up with their Mosaic partnership in July 2008, which Reaves called the “worst possible time” to become developers. The housing bubble had burst over Philadelphia in the last quarter of 2007, and the financial meltdown of September 2008 was a couple months down the road.

“We are focused and persistent,” Reaves said. “We never gave up on the Blue Horizon project,” and that persistence has carried them through the Temple project and the one at Seventh and Lehigh.

Smallwood-Lewis acknowledged that the August fire that destroyed the old Edison High School created massive cleanup problems at a building they had under agreement of sale for $600,000 from the School District of Philadelphia.

Starting this month, Reaves said, the remains of the 400,000-square-foot school will be razed and 100,000 square feet of the site will be used for retail “in a blighted neighborhood that doesn’t have very much of it.” Ninety percent of the retail space is already leased, he said.

A 60,000-square-foot building in back of the site will be kept for eventual creation of senior housing.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @alheavens.

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