Thursday, December 18, 2008
What Do You Do with a $36 million Empty Lot?
Now that ARCWheeler's Boyd hotel and theater project has received the blessings of the Planning Commission (Tuesday) and the Zoning Board of Adjustment (Wednesday), we thought we would turn our attention to the project on the opposite side of Sansom Street. Does the name Castleway Properties still ring any bells?
Just over a year ago, the Dublin-based company paid $36.7 million for the last buildable lot on Rittenhouse Square, rescuing it from the low expectations of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The firm hired Brad Fiske of KlingStubbins to turn out some renderings for an ambitious mixed-use development, which you can see in the image. The plan called for a 525-foot condo tower backing onto Sansom Street - just across the way from one of the entrances to the proposed Boyd hotel. In the front, toward the northeast corner of the square, they envisioned a 220-foot boutique hotel, with the usual assortment of restaurants and cafes.
Castleway's Jim Osbourne told me back then that he also wanted to knock down the Warwick Apartment building and the funeral home on Sansom (read the Illadelph account), but would preserve the beautifully tiled Rittenhouse cafe. In place of the two demolished buildings, he said there would be a linear park connecting Walnut to Sansom, an idea that would dovetail very nicely with Hal Wheeler's plan to upgrade Sansom Street.
Exciting stuff. The Castleway folks, who broke all price records when then paid close $37 million for the .83-acre site, were no doubt flush with Euro wealth from the then-booming Irish economy.
By early 2008, Castleway appeared to drop out of sight. Disappeared. Vanished. The Center City Residents Association stopped hearing from them. Their urgent requests for a zoning upgrade, to C5, suddenly ceased. And then soon after, the real estate market went into its current nosedive.
This is another project that looks dead, but may still have a little life in it yet. Osborne, speaking by phone from Ireland, told me the company is reassessing the project's size and mix to account for the changes in the market. He said he still believes the company "still has the best site in Philadelphia. We're not about to give up on it." The question is how to develop it.
ARCWheeler's plans for the Boyd Hotel can't hurt. Osborne and Wheeler have been talking to coordinate their projects, and Osborne says he will be in Philadelphia early in the New Year to begin work on a new development plan for the Rittenhouse Square site.
Unfortunately, things haven't been going quite so well at another project that Osborne has been involved with, separate from Castleway's portfolio. Osborne is the development director for Shelbourne Development's Chicago Spire project, the ambitious, 2,000-foot tall condo tower on Chicago's lakefront. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, that twisting condo tower was to be America's tallest residential building, but now it's a mere rain-filled hole in the ground and the contractors have filed liens against the developer for non-payment. Osborne says, however, that the condos are still selling and that con-struction will eventually resume.
So, for now, I guess having a big grassy empty lot may be preferable to having a small lake.