Mormons to build 32-story tower near Center City

Rendering of Mormon meetinghouse and tower.
Rendering of Mormon meetinghouse and tower. (Robert A.M. Stern Architects)
Posted: February 14, 2014

The Mormon Church plans to build a 32-story apartment tower and a public meetinghouse on a vacant lot next to the Vine Street Expressway, filling in a key piece of the no-man's-land that has long separated Center City and North Philadelphia's rebounding neighborhoods.

The private development by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls for 258 apartments, 13 townhouses, and retail shops at 16th and Vine Streets.

The meetinghouse will have a chapel, courtyard, multipurpose space, and a center to research genealogy, said Michael Marcheschi, senior real estate manager for the church's national special projects department.

The development, announced Wednesday by Mayor Nutter and church officials, will stand next to the Mormon temple under construction on Vine Street and set for completion in 2016.

The meetinghouse will be the primary worship space for about 1,000 of the 25,000 Mormons in the Philadelphia area, said Corinne Dougherty, director of public affairs for the church's Philadelphia region.

Tenants need not be Mormons to rent an apartment or townhouse in the development, officials said. They said the units would rent at market prices.

Wednesday's announcement is the next step in the church's commitment to invest in Philadelphia, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said. Church officials said the development would complete their local building plans.

The total cost of the project is not yet known, church officials said.

The church will not receive city or state money for the project, Nutter said. He said the project would create an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 jobs.

The for-profit residential tower will be subject to city taxes, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said; the meetinghouse will be tax-exempt because of its religious nature. He said the project was also eligible for the city's 10-year tax abatement for new development.

Plans for the project still need approval from various city agencies, and no date has been set for groundbreaking. Construction is projected to last from 18 months to two years.

Nutter said the new buildings on what is now a parking lot would bring "more residents, worshipers, and retail activity to one of the most architecturally significant sections of our city," and would transform the skyline.

The nearly 360-foot tower - by comparison, the Comcast tower rises 975 feet - will also mark the latest step in the redevelopment of Vine Street, which already is home to the Central Branch of the Free Library and the planned transformation of the Family Court building into a luxury hotel. The new buildings will rise just a block from the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, across the Vine Street Expressway.

Other signs of change in the Benjamin Franklin Parkway area include the announcement Monday of a deal for the overhaul of John F. Kennedy Plaza, and a proposed casino in the former Inquirer Building on North Broad Street.

In the Mormons' plan, street-level townhouses will line Vine and Wood Streets, said Paul Whalen, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The tower will have shops along 16th Street, though tenants have not yet been selected.

Whalen said a new tree-lined street between Wood Street and Vine would connect the meetinghouse and tower and would be open to the public.

The two-story meetinghouse would be at Vine and Franklin Town Boulevard. Sunday worship services will be held there, and there will be weekday activities such as youth meetings and recreation, Marcheschi said.

The meetinghouse will be open to the public, but the temple will be reserved "for members of the church who are living the tenets of the faith," Marcheschi said. One of 140 Mormon temples, it will be open to the public for about a month between its completion and dedication in 2016, Marcheschi said.

The nearest Mormon temples are in New York City and Washington.

A scholar who has studied modern Mormonism characterized the plan as part of the church's effort to expand its presence in inner-city areas.

Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University who has authored three books on contemporary Mormon religion, said, "I think that large buildings like this are intended by the church to make a statement that they want to have a greater presence in the inner city, where they can provide service and help and support to populations that have not heretofore been typical Mormon recruits."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

267-559-1264 @Lmccrystal

Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron contributed to this article.

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