South Kensington’s star is rising

The neigh­bor­hood could see a huge in­flux of res­id­en­tial and com­mer­cial spaces in the com­ing years. 

The va­cant former Ab­sco site in South Kens­ing­ton, seen from Amer­ic­an and Mas­ter streets (above), is where the SoKo Lofts pro­ject (be­low) is slated to be­gin con­struc­tion in 2014 – one of sev­er­al new de­vel­op­ments in the area. STAR PHOTO / SAM NE­W­HOUSE; REN­DER­ING COUR­TESY OF THE CANUS COR­POR­A­TION

Just north of Gir­ard Av­en­ue and ad­ja­cent to trendy North­ern Liber­ties lies a neigh­bor­hood that is re­ferred to al­tern­ately as Olde Kens­ing­ton, Lower Kens­ing­ton and South Kens­ing­ton.

Three new large apart­ment pro­jects planned in the area show that real es­tate de­velopers be­lieve there’s po­ten­tial for this part of Kens­ing­ton to be­come Phil­adelphia’s next hip, de­sir­able neigh­bor­hood to live in.

SoKo Lofts by The Canus Cor­por­a­tion, Liberty Square by Black­stone De­vel­op­ment, and Ox­ford Mills by D3 Real Es­tate De­vel­op­ment are all pro­posed to be built south of Ox­ford Street, north of Gir­ard Av­en­ue, and between North 4th and Front Streets. To­geth­er they rep­res­ent more than 600 new apart­ments for the area.

“It is a lot of units be­ing pro­posed at once,” said Leah Murphy, co-chair of the South Kens­ing­ton Com­munity Part­ners’ (SKCP) zon­ing com­mit­tee. “You have to won­der if there is suf­fi­cient de­mand to sup­port all of them.”

South Kens­ing­ton is not­able for the Crane Arts Cen­ter, a re­fur­bished in­dus­tri­al build­ing at Amer­ic­an and Mas­ter streets that now houses artists’ stu­di­os. Earli­er this sum­mer, 3rd Ward Phil­adelphia, a cre­at­ive co-work­ing space in­side a former in­dus­tri­al build­ing, opened at North 4th and Mas­ter streets. 3rd Ward was first open in Brook­lyn.

De­velopers seem to be­lieve that the suc­cess of those sites can be re­peated with res­id­en­tial pro­jects.

The Canus Cor­por­a­tion’s SoKo Lofts, de­signed by Bar­ton Part­ners, was first pro­posed in 2007, but was delayed due to the eco­nom­ic down­turn. Now the 294,000-square-foot pro­ject, planned to in­clude more than 300 apart­ments and four to six com­mer­cial spaces, is slated to be­gin con­struc­tion in 2014 on the former Ab­sco site between Amer­ic­an, Thompson, Mas­ter and 2nd streets — cur­rently a huge va­cant lot.

“We thought it was sort of a hid­den gem,” said Paul Ra­binovitch, vice pres­id­ent of the Canus Cor­por­a­tion, of the pro­ject site.

Ra­binovitch said that the area’s prox­im­ity to pub­lic trans­it and amen­it­ies like the nearby Fresh Gro­cer su­per­mar­ket make it at­tract­ive for res­id­en­tial uses.

Just around the corner, Black­stone’s 200-unit, 277,000-square-foot pro­ject, de­signed by Har­man Deutsch and cur­rently known as Liberty Square, is planned to sit between West Thompson Street, Stile Street, Ger­man­town Av­en­ue and Gir­ard Av­en­ue. The pro­ject in­cludes a res­taur­ant and may in­clude oth­er com­mer­cial spaces.

If the pro­ject moves for­ward as planned, de­moli­tion of the ex­ist­ing struc­tures on the site and con­struc­tion of a 15-foot-deep un­der­ground park­ing gar­age should be com­pleted by early 2015, at which point the con­struc­tion of hous­ing would be­gin, ac­cord­ing to Black­stone own­er Mi­chael Petri.

A few blocks north, the Ox­ford Mills pro­ject, by D3 Real Es­tate De­vel­op­ment, is already in the early stages of con­struc­tion. The 114-unit pro­ject, which will in­hab­it two ex­ist­ing, red brick in­dus­tri­al struc­tures, will in­clude com­mer­cial of­fice space for the Teach for Amer­ica pro­gram, and will of­fer dis­coun­ted hous­ing to teach­ers.

Some neigh­bors are con­cerned that these three pro­jects will rep­res­ent a huge in­crease in pop­u­la­tion dens­ity in the neigh­bor­hood, ac­cord­ing to Murphy. 

“The amount of avail­able land and the zon­ing changes that are com­ing have the po­ten­tial to drastic­ally change the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bor­hood, in both good ways and bad ways,” Murphy said.

The “zon­ing changes” Murphy re­ferred to are part of the City Plan­ning Com­mi­s­ion’s (CPC) Phil­adelphia 2035 com­pre­hens­ive plan. The CPC will hold­ing hold two pub­lic meet­ings later this month to dis­cuss the Lower North Dis­trict, which in­cludes South Kens­ing­ton, and their plans to remap the neigh­bor­hood’s un­used and va­cant in­dus­tri­al lots with mixed-use com­mer­cial and res­id­en­tial zon­ing. 

Ra­binovitch said the city-sup­por­ted in­dus­tri­al zon­ing in the neigh­bor­hood is the only reas­on res­id­en­tial de­vel­op­ment hasn’t been more wide­spread in South Kens­ing­ton.

Murphy agreed that South Kens­ing­ton is on the way up.

“If you do live in the neigh­bor­hood, you can see it hap­pen­ing. I’ve seen it in­cre­ment­ally in small ways, build­ing over time,” she said. ••

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