Northeast Times

Sewer construction underway on Roosevelt Blvd.

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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. ••

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You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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