And they all fall down

The va­cant Henry F. Ort­lieb Brew­ery build­ings in North­ern Liber­ties could be de­mol­ished at any time be­gin­ning today, but ex­actly when is un­clear. Ort­lieb’s is among the last in­dus­tri­al land­marks in the neigh­bor­hood. What’s to come after the dust settles?

Tower In­vest­ments, led by real es­tate de­veloper and CEO Bart Blat­stein, ob­tained de­moli­tion per­mits earli­er this month to de­mol­ish the Henry F. Ort­lieb Brew­ery, a four-build­ing com­plex at 838-852 N. Amer­ic­an St.

Ac­cord­ing to Li­censes & In­spec­tions spokes­wo­man Maura Kennedy, al­though the de­moli­tion could take place any­time start­ing today, the de­moli­tion per­mit stands through 2015, so there’s no telling when the bricks might fall.

The Ort­lieb’s Bot­tling House on the east side of North Amer­ic­an Street as well as Ort­lieb’s Lounge on Third Street will not be torn down.

Blat­stein did not, as of press time, re­turn sev­er­al mes­sages re­quest­ing com­ment, but Tower In­vest­ments’ pub­li­cist Frank Keel did say over the phone last week that no spe­cif­ic time for de­moli­tion has been sched­uled.

The brew­ery closed in 1981. Tower In­vest­ments pur­chased the build­ings in 2000, the same year Blat­stein pur­chased Schmidt’s Brew­ery, now the bust­ling Piazza at Schmidt’s.

Schmidt’s Brew­ery, 1050 N. Han­cock St., was torn down over the fol­low­ing two years des­pite op­pos­i­tion from neigh­bors, ac­cord­ing to the Web site Hid­den City Phil­adelphia.

Will sim­il­ar de­vel­op­ment take place at Ort­lieb’s? It’s hard to say. Blat­stein told Hid­den City that plans for the prop­erty are “un­clear,” and ad­ded, “The mar­ket is so dif­fer­ent than it was three or four years ago … I would have kept the build­ings if I would have felt it was a mar­ket­able com­mod­ity, but the con­di­tion of the build­ings is such that it’s just not worth it.”

In 2007, Tower In­vest­ments ex­plored the idea of re­hab­il­it­at­ing the build­ings for res­id­en­tial use, but the plans nev­er pro­gressed after they were presen­ted to The North­ern Liber­ties Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation’s As­so­ci­ation.

Larry Freed­man, NLNA’s zon­ing chair­man, said that when Tower presen­ted those plans, most neigh­bors sup­por­ted the idea. He said it’s hard to say wheth­er the build­ings should stay or go without know­ing the plan for the space, but said the build­ings’ de­moli­tion could be a pos­it­ive thing for the neigh­bor­hood.

“It would be nice to see something hap­pen over there. It’s a des­ol­ate street, it’s been do­ing noth­ing but stand­ing there and rot­ting,” he said. “I’m go­ing to take a leap of faith and say it’s pos­sible that, if some­body tears that build­ing down, that might be the first step to­ward something that might be more be­ne­fi­cial to sur­round­ing neigh­bors.”

There are dif­fer­ing opin­ions.

Since news of the de­moli­tion began to spread on­line, com­ments on neigh­bor­hood mes­sage boards have ranged from, “This build­ing is an eye­sore so I’m not sad to see it go,” and “Why would we want to save that?” to “The com­plex can be saved and re­pur­posed“ and “It’s beau­ti­ful and it’s a part of the his­tory of the neigh­bor­hood.”

Susan Graeser, who lives in North­ern Liber­ties, said she doesn’t want to see Ort­lieb’s de­mol­ished.

“I guess some people look at it and see a mess, but I look at it and see everything that made North­ern Liber­ties a neigh­bor­hood,” she said. “The his­tory be­hind it is al­most majest­ic and time­less … [Schmidt’s and Ort­lieb’s] provided jobs, they cre­ated this neigh­bor­hood.”

Shanna Fitz­gib­bons, who cur­rently lives in Fishtown but has lived in North­ern Liber­ties, said she wouldn’t want to see more apart­ments built in Ort­lieb’s place — the neigh­bor­hood has enough apart­ment com­plexes, she said — but she be­lieves Blat­stein can do whatever he wants with the space.

“Bart bought it. It’s his. I don’t see how I or any­one else, ex­cept for maybe the im­me­di­ate neigh­bors, have any right to ob­ject to what he wants to do to his prop­erty … we live in a cap­it­al­ist­ic so­ci­ety; that’s just how it works.”

She said she thinks any neigh­bor­hood op­pos­i­tion comes from the fact that people don’t like change, and that people tend to dis­like wealthy real es­tate de­velopers.

Mi­chael Greenle noted in an opin­ion piece for The Phil­adelphia In­quirer that, if the com­plex is so de­teri­or­ated that it can’t be saved, it’s Blat­stein’s fault, since it’s been un­der his own­er­ship and left to de­teri­or­ate since its pur­chase.

“It’s a mess,” Freed­man said. “I know it’s fall­ing apart.”

Re­gard­less of what might hap­pen to the prop­erty, and des­pite neigh­bor­hood op­pos­i­tion, Freed­man said the neigh­bor­hood doesn’t own the build­ing — all North­ern Liber­ties can hope for is what he called a “glass half-full” scen­ario in which any new de­vel­op­ment there only en­hances the neigh­bor­hood.

“My per­son­al opin­ion is I love to see things de­vel­op. I love to see streets act­ive with people and en­ergy,” he said. “The way it [the Ort­lieb’s site] is now, that’s not hap­pen­ing.”

It also was an­nounced last week that Tower In­vest­ments is sched­uled to re­veal to­night its plans for a $1 bil­lion re­sort and casino com­plex at 400 N. Broad St., the former site of the In­quirer and Daily News. That “Launch Party,” was sched­uled to take place at 5 p.m. at the Tendenza ca­ter­ing hall at the Piazza.

Man­aging Ed­it­or Mi­kala Jam­is­on can be reached at 215-354-3113 or at mjam­is­

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