Developer David Grasso has traveled a long road in his attempt to bring what he calls a “world-class music venue” to the Delaware River waterfront, but his dream is close to coming true.
On June 16, City Council approved a bill that will allow Grasso to convert a warehouse at Richmond Street and Girard Avenue into a 34,000-square-foot, 3,000-patron venue.
With those zoning changes now in place, the developer is beginning talks with community leaders — who opposed the venue’s location — to create a Community Benefits Agreement to alleviate some concerns about the project.
Asked about the project, Grasso, in an e-mailed reply, said that at the direction of City Councilman Frank DiCicco (D-1st dist.), he reached out to “community leaders from several groups as well as certain other interested parties from the city and the councilmen’s offices” to share their concerns over the project.
Representatives from the Fishtown Neighbors Association, Fishtown Action, the Old Richmond Civic Association and the New Kensington Community Development Corp. were included in this group.
An initial meeting was planned for Thursday, June 29, but that was pushed back until the second week of July.
As for what to expect at that meeting, Neil Brecher, president of the FNA, said he was skeptical about just what might come out of meetings intended to create a CBA.
Because Grasso already has the needed zoning changes, neighborhood groups will bring little leverage to the table when it comes to demanding things such as lighting, trash removal and security.
“I can say that the position of the neighborhood groups has not changed,” he said.
That position was made crystal clear when Grasso appeared before a June 7 hearing of the City Council’s Rules Committee.
This hearing allowed residents to testify before the committee about concerns over the proposed club. The developer needed to change the zoning designation of the area bounded by Richmond Street, Cumberland Street, Beach Street and Schirra Drive to allow for nightclubs. Council approved his request, making the area a C-3 commercial district and removing a prohibition on nightclubs from a Delaware Avenue zoning overlay that Councilman DiCicco created to combat nuisance properties in that area.
While Grasso contends to have adequate parking, with enough for at least 640 vehicles, he said at that hearing — he also noted that he expects patrons to utilize public transportation — residents expressed concerns over the possibility of patron vehicles taking up space in the community.
During that hearing, Capt. Mike Cram of the 26th Police District had concerns of his own, saying the incoming patrons could but a burden on his officers.
Brecher noted these issues and said that at this time, he wouldn’t even want to speculate on what concessions would be made needed for a benefits agreement.
In fact, he jokingly said the only thing that might ease his mind would be the creation of a 1,500-car underground garage on the site.
But that would be “impossible,” he admitted.
“We are not sure, at this time, what might even come out of a CBA,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you now what would even be possible.”
Brecher said he wasn’t surprised that City Council approved the project, because the initial presentation, held in a joint community meeting last year, saw residents oppose the project by about 60 to 40.
“It was a pretty close vote,” Brecher of the 20-vote margin.
He mentioned he hopes to discuss another issue that in an upcoming meeting to create a CBA — as written, the Grasso bill changes zoning not just at 2055 Richmond St., but on two other properties as well.
Grasso owns two properties on Richmond Street, but the two other properties, which are currently operating businesses, could be nightclubs in the future by right.
The first meeting of the group will be held in two weeks.
“Right now, it’s a wait and see,” said Brecher.
Grasso said he intends to meet with the community groups throughout the rest of the summer and hopefully reach an agreement that will allow the building to begin construction in the fall.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org