Don’t let the flashing arrows and orange cones fool you — construction of a long-awaited corporate office complex is not underway on the former Byberry Hospital site.
Rather, the city has hired a contractor merely to install a new sewer main and other utilities along Roosevelt Boulevard that, one day it is hoped, will help convince private companies to set up shop in brand-new, built-to-order offices there.
A leading official with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. confirmed that the quasi-city agency has attracted no new interest among potential occupants of the 50-acre site in the Far Northeast that used to be part of the former Philadelphia State Hospital, a mental-health asylum commonly known as Byberry.
The property is on the northwest corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road. The new sewer will parallel the Boulevard and cost $1.2 million to build.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t portend any development,” said PIDC senior vice president Paul Deegan. “We really haven’t been able to successfully attract development to that site with Brandywine.”
Radnor-based Brandywine Realty Trust is the lead developer for the site. After acquiring the property as part of a 135-acre parcel from the state in 2004, PIDC awarded development rights to Brandywine and the Westrum Development Corp. later that year.
Westrum is building houses on a dedicated 55-acre portion of the site, while Brandywine continues to seek tenants for the 50-acre part.
Despite the absence of demand, the developer and PIDC continue to target a specific type of occupant. Now vacant following extensive demolition and environmental remediation, the property is zoned for corporate office-style use.
“We’re not going to do (retail) commercial on that site for sure,” Deegan said. “We can be patient on that site. We’re going to be here. Twenty years from now we don’t want to be going to civic meetings and have people saying, ‘We don’t want those restaurants there.’”
Corporate-office development is preferable to PIDC and the city administration because of the type of jobs it creates. Corporate-sector jobs are higher paying and offer better benefits than retail-sector jobs. Deegan blamed the low interest in the Byberry site on outside factors.
“It’s because of the economy and the weak office market in the Northeast (United States),” he said.
Representatives from Brandywine Realty Trust did not respond to requests for comment.
Deegan said that the new sewer project came about when Self-Help, an alcohol- and drug-treatment facility on the southwest corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and Southampton Road, began having plumbing problems because of the century-old sewer main serving the area.
Self-Help occupies former Byberry Hospital property as well. The non-profit acquired the land directly from the state decades ago. According to Deegan, PIDC’s Industrial and Commercial Development Revolving Fund will foot $700,000 of the project cost, while the city’s capital budget will pay for the rest.
“This infrastructure improvement will make it a more marketable property, and it will improve the water quality up there,” he said.
Looking ahead, when Brandywine is able to redevelop the site for corporate tenants, the new buildings will be able to link to the new main for sewer service, Deegan added.
Westrum, as part of its residential development on the former Byberry property, installed new sewer and water mains for the new homes it continues to build there. ••EndFragment