15 years After the Fire: Construction Starts on One Meridian Replacement Tower
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes this morning, I wouldn't have believed it. Construction work has started on the former site of One Meridian Plaza, the office tower that went up in flames exactly 15 years ago this Wednesday (Feb. 23), killing three firefighters. Not only was there a construction trailer and L.F. Driscoll sign on the lot across from City Hall, but workers were nudging jersey barriers into place, in preparation for starting work on a 280-unit condo building.
When the developer finishes this high-rise, which is being called the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, they ought to erect a plaque marking the South Penn Square site as a burial ground for legal fees. No property in Philadelphia has ever been the subject of so much litigation. Meridian's owners and its insurance company spent nine long years haggling over compensation for the Vincent Kling-designed tower - letting the charred wreckage stand as a reproach while they argued. They finally reached a settlement in 1999 that allowed the remains to be hauled away. But almost immediately, the site's new owner, Craig Spencer of the Arden Group, got into a game of legal ping pong with his neighbor, Tim Mahoney, of Mariner Commercial Properties. Both wanted to build condo towers on huge garage bases, yet both were convinced the other guy's design would wreck their looks.
Progress was finally made last summer when Spencer and his architect, Handel Architects of New York, finally agreed to make their tower smaller and ditch the 200-foot-high garage. The new design they conceived is a fairly elegant, 485-foot-tall, blue-glass tower with a faceted turret that will capture views of the Delaware River. The residents will rely on the existing underground garage built for the Meridian. Miraculously, no more lawsuits have been filed.
Now if only the city could convince Mariner to bury its garage, this sad saga would finally be over.