PhillyDeals: Developer has big plans for Washington Square

Looking west toward Seventh Street , Washington Square has no shortage of foot traffic. File Photograph
Looking west toward Seventh Street , Washington Square has no shortage of foot traffic. File Photograph
Posted: June 16, 2014

Washington Square has been one of the quieter corners of Center City since the crowds of pressmen, illustrators, ad salespeople, and buzzing electric paper trucks vanished from the neighborhood, along with Philadelphia's old role as the nation's mass-market publishing center.

But the blocks around Washington Square now seem primed to become more like busy Rittenhouse Square, a Philadelphia slice of Manhattan with its pricey apartments, cafes, boutiques, and crowded sidewalks.

"Conventional wisdom was that you would go to Rittenhouse Square for your social life," then to Washington Square when it was time to buy a home in town, says Bill Glazer, the Bala Cynwyd developer who took over the north side of the park last week. Glazer's Keystone Property Group and partner Mack-Cali's Roseland Property Co. bought the 885,000-square-foot Curtis Center for $125 million.

With the Glazer group planning restaurants with sidewalk tables along the whole newly acquired side of Walnut Street, plus at least 90 apartments in unused Curtis Center offices, and given other projects nearby, there's no reason Washington Square's future social life and daily activity need be any less than that on Rittenhouse Square, Glazer says.

Residents of the Washington Square area are, on average, wealthier than those around Rittenhouse Square, notes Paul Levy, president of the Center City District. That's because the Washington Square area contains a higher proportion of high-end homeowners - and fewer young renters, grad and professional students, and apartments to house them.

"Washington Square has been going through a steady transformation over the last decade," Levy notes.

It's 10 years since the 45-story green-glass St. James tower replaced low-rises and took over the old PSFS headquarters on the park in the last condo wave. The buildings that once housed the pioneering N.W. Ayer & Son ad agency and the former home of Lippincott Publishing are also condominiums.

Developer Tom Scannapieco says he's already sold more than a quarter of the 40 units he plans for the revived condo market at his $140 million 500 Walnut St. project.

But it's the plans for larger apartment developments, on the sites of the long-vanished Lit Bros. and N. Snellenberg department stores on Market Street to the north of Washington Square, that Glazer cites for attracting more development money and apartment interest to the neighborhood recently.

It's a lot easier to fill apartments in this part of Center City than offices, or stores.

Does that mean Center City is becoming more of a bedroom community, a place to live while working somewhere else?

Levy notes that Center City residents are still more likely to live near their work than other Philadelphians.

Recently, Glazer and partners also purchased the former Rohm & Haas building on Independence Mall, which remains half-occupied by Rohm's successor, Dow Chemical Co.

Glazer says retail will benefit from the new residents: Stores in the neighborhood increasingly serve both office and residential tenants.

On Friday, crews hired by Glazer's group were framing out a beer garden in that building's ground-floor outdoor plaza.

 Meanwhile, Gary Ginsberg was moving his family's Shirt Corner and Suit Corner stores into a long-vacant former dollar store in the 600 block of Market Street. He moved, Ginsberg tells me, to make way for yet another apartment project nearby, at his old Third and Market location.

(215)854-5194 @PhillyJoeD

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