Thursday, December 15, 2005

Return of the Ancient Mariner Condos

Long, long ago - in 2001 - when Mariner Commercial Properties first announced plans for Philadelphia's tallest residential building, a 50-story tower at 15th and Chestnut Streets, the massive tower by Cope Linder didn't look half bad, even though it was perched atop a 10-story parking podium. But that was before the condo craze hit, and before Philadelphia was immersed in the biggest residential building boom since the 1929 stock market crash.

Over the last four years, while Philadelphia was remaking itself as the so-called Sixth Borough, Mariner had the bad luck to be involved in the mother of all zoning feuds. While its developer, Tim Mahoney, and the developer of the adjacent Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, were busy suing and counter-suing one another, the little world of Philadelphia condo design started to change. Developers started slicking up their towers with sophisticated architecture. Richard Meier's firm entered the fray with Mandeville Place. Then came Solomon Cordwell Buenz's Murano tower, now under construction at 21st and Market. Neither had a garage podium.

Even Handel Architects, the designers of the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, improved their original design by ditching the podium and putting all the parking underground. As condo towers proliferate in Philadelphia, the saavier designers and developers are realizing that the blocky, dark podiums wreck the lines of their towers and make them less attractive places to live. Opus East, a development company with few design pretensions, quickly agreed to neighbors' demands and seriously reduced the podium on its new tower at 20th and Market Streets.

Now the Mariner project is back on track. The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved a slightly revised version of the project this week, despite threats of more lawsuits from neighbor and competitor Craig Spencer. It's not much different than the design Cope Linder Architects presented four years ago. Mariner brought down the overall height of the tower to 585 feet, from 615. Unfortunately, the podium remains, although it is now down to eight stories. The only compensation is that the parking structure will be completely enclosed in the same masonry and glass as the rest of the tower. We can only hope it will be indistinguishable from the rest of the building and doesn't create a harsh backdrop to McKim Mead & White's sublime Girard Bank Dome.

As you might expect, the subject of the podium didn't phase the ZBA. As the Inquirer reports today, the board quickly rubberstamped the old design and its chairman, David Auspitz, wished them all godspeed.


Blogger Gabriella said...

Oh, that wonderful ZBA, weaving its magic yet again! Just how many payoffs do these schmucks take?

1:14 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

It would seem the ZBA is more concerned that developers will wake up and decide philly is not for them, so ZBA panics and approves everything....dont they know developers are smarter than them?

Cooler heads should prevail to produce better integration of projects!

10:43 AM  

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