The first phase of partial demolition and construction recently began on Lancaster Mews, the 3600 block of Lancaster Avenue. The block was home to several shops frequented by students, including Aloosh Hookah Bar and Lemongrass Thai restaurant. Many of those businesses moved to other locations.
The controversial plans for the block were first noticed in 2015, according to John Phillips, president of the Powelton Village Community Association, who responded to us in an email. A member of the PVCA noticed someone taking photos of the buildings, and the photographer revealed the developer at the time intended to fully demolish the block and replace it with luxury apartments.
With a looming demolition, the PVCA decided immediately to nominate the block for historic designation. The association hired an expert in historical research to help create the application. Drexel’s Office of Government and Community Relations supported the historical designation and was strongly in favor of keeping the buildings and retail in place. The association was successful in gaining the designation, but that did not dissuade the developer from continuing to pursue demolition.
The first compromise offered by the developers was to revise the plans to keep the facade of the structure in a preservation process known as a facadectomy. Facadectomy is the same technique used in the redevelopment of the Boyd Theater, and only spares a small fraction of the original structure. This plan also did not include the ground-level retail that had existed on the block.
After a lengthy process of pushback from the community, and several revisions to the plan, a final compromise was reached between the developer and the community. That compromise included allowing the developer to slice off the rear portion of the buildings to make way for new development while leaving the corner buildings on 36th and 37th streets, the fronts of the buildings, and parts of the interior intact.
The compromise also requires the developer to include the ground-level retail that existed before construction. While it’s not exactly what the community wanted, Phillips said he’s happy a compromise could be made.
“We agreed to the demolition of the rear of the buildings only in order to save first floor commercial use along Lancaster. While neither the developer nor the residents are completely happy, we are pleased that a compromise could be reached that met the communities goals of respect for the building and its history with good retail opportunities.”
Phillips also said he expects the retail spaces to be larger and more viable than the ones that previously existed. The developer, CA Ventures, told The Triangle there will be a total of five retail spaces in the new building.
It is unclear at this time, however, which of the original businesses will be moving back to their spaces after construction is completed. CA Ventures confirmed that Aloosh will be returning to the block, but the developer is currently only in discussions with other tenants.
With the current plan for the block approved, demolition and construction began this summer and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2019.
The new structure, which will be situated behind the existing structure, will include 126 student apartment units and will be four to five floors high, according to architectural drawings.