Friday, November 18, 2005

Condo Tower Becoming a Major Opus

A lot of people in Center City have been anxiously awaiting the final design of Opus East's 38-story condo building at 20th and Market Streets. Opus, a huge national company that builds everything from industrial flex spaces to housing, originally wanted to prop its tower on a nine-story parking podium. Fortunately, the Center City Residents Association stopped that clunky, anti-urban design in its tracks.

Opus, to its credit, went back to the drawing board, and the tower has gone through at least two redesigns. Opus, which is partnering with Philadelphia Management, is scheduled to reveal its latest version at a meeting sponsored by the CCRA on Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion at 2110 Chestnut Street. The renderings seem to be a closely guarded secret - not even the CCRA's point people have seen them. But an executive at Opus told Skyline that this version splits the parking garage into two parts: three levels go underground. Three remain above.

It's an improvement, but it probably won't fly with the CCRA, which is in the midst of a wide-ranging neighborhood planning study. Although the CCRA report is far from finished, consultant John Gibbons of Kise Straw & Kolodner, has been a strong advocate for requiring Center City developers to bury their garages.

Craig Guerrs at Opus complains that the existence of underground streams make it technically difficult for his company to construct more than three underground parking floors. Gibbons says that's nonsense, and notes that Opus' neighbor, the Blue Cross tower, has four parking levels below ground. The design of the parking decks is a big concern for the people in Penn Center House on JFK Boulevard. Their windows will be separated only by a narrow alley from the new tower.

I suspect that parking won't be the only thing wrong with Opus' proposed tower. The project is being designed in-house. Judging from the projects shown on the company website, Opus tends to favor clunky, bottom-line designs - more like the stuff on JFK Boulevard than the stylish Murano tower now going up one block west, at 21st and Market Streets. It will be interesting to see what materials the company proposes for the facade of the Philadelphia tower.

8 Comments:

Blogger Gabriella said...

Why oh why oh why doesn't anyone want to get it???? What is most appealing about the core of the city, what adds most to its livability and scale, is the, repeat after me--WALKABILITY. All of these designers are intent on killing that very thing. Is it really the end of the world if everyone doesn't have their very own parking space. What they may find after living in town for a while is that they won't have a need certainly for two cars, and limited need for one car. And, look around, there are probably other solutions, like Share-A-Ride, where you rent a car when you need it. Thank you Inga for shedding such light on this problem that most of our politicians and well-connected developers would prefer to keep in the dark, sort of like a mushroom.

5:13 PM  
Blogger mark said...

Thanks for giving us this great blog Inga. Very informational, but imo you are coming down a little hard on Opus in this case.

Opus is in business to maximize profit.Their clientelle is not geared towards the super wealthy. It's base is upper middle class, this is their comfort zone. The Opus condo will be closer to a $100 million dollar project compared to Murano,10 Rittenhouse, and Ritz Carlton which are anywhere from $165 M to $240 million. Will Opus be state of the art? No. Will the Opus project give an oppurtunity for city living to the demographic priced out of the super high end projects like Residence at Ritz. Yes, and imo that is not such a bad thing.

Gabriella unfortunately the automobile is a staple in american soceity. Especially in mixed up metro Philly where half of the people who live in center city work out in suburbs. Also the people who can afford these condo's need a car to go see mom, dad, siblings and friends, who live out in West Chester, Malvern or NYC.

Developers can do amazing camouflage with parking garages nowadays. It would be a shame for this grass plot to exist another 15 years because a couple dozen people living on JFK Blvd don't want views of 3 stories of a parking garage.

10:49 AM  
Blogger voiceofreason said...

Mark's rationalist response, though generally valid, is depressing. Must we blindly accept the capitalist system as perfect and, in doing so, relegate those who can 'only' pay $400/sf for a new Center Ciy condo to aesthetic mediocrity? In reality, what is good for a developer, factoring in negative externalities, is not necessary in the best interest of society as a whole. When interests deviate, it is the responsibility of educated citizens to press for changes that better align the economic objectives of the developer with the interests of society at large.

I am not suggesting that we all give up our SUVs and start bicycling to work. But perhaps some of the financial incentives currently offered to developers (the 10-year tax abatement on new construction, for instance) could be better-tailored to promote the public interest. Now, if only Philly had a pro-active, forward thinking planning commission....

3:27 PM  
Blogger akap said...

Why do many people blame developers for the Tax abatment.
Please note that the the tax abatement is not a befenfit for developers. It is a benefit only for the buyers of these new homes. Developers receive no incentives for the abatement. The benefit to developers is the ability to market these new homes by telling buyers they will pay less real estate taxes than in the suburbs.

Buildings in Philadelphia are expensive to build and ugly because developers are forced to pay high labor costs instead of spending the money on good design and use of different materials

3:23 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Just a reminder, the city now requires developers to have 1 parking space for every unit in a building. It's actually a good idea because it's supposed to cut down on the lack of street parking - or really to provide tenants a place to park because everyone knows what a pain it is to find parking in the city. Oh and I'm all about cutting down on our dependency on cars - people should be maximizing the public transportation system, or my favorite (in the summer) biking.

2:50 PM  
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