The former Mt. Sinai Hospital in Dickinson Square West may be transformed into 237 residences.
"The main hospital buildings will remain and be reused," said Richard C. DeMarco, attorney for developer Greenpointe Construction. Designed by BartonPartners architects and planners, the proposal includes 198 rental apartments, located in the existing buildings, and 37 owner-occupied townhomes.
Some small existing structures on the block at 4th and Reed, including a loading dock, would be demolished to make room for the townhomes, said Green Pointe owner Gagan Lakhmna. But both the original 1921 hospital and the addition built in the late 1980s will be reused.
The project, which also includes a restaurant, meeting space and a gym and would take up the entire block, was presented to the Pennsport Civic Association Monday night, Dec. 16. While the project is physically within Dickinson Square, it's near Pennsport and so Pennsport Civic, also hosted a public meeting earlier this week.
"We've been looking at this site for a couple of years now, as Pennsport and Dickinson Square have been developing," Lakhmna said.
Greenpointe does both new construction and adaptive reuse as opportunities arise, he said. The company built 15 new townhomes and two condos at 12th and Latona . It also built Arrow Swim Club from an old warehouse for Tower Investments and converted an old church on 3rd Street into a tech company's offices.
The upper floors of the old hospital will make for some balconies with incredible views, he said. And the former emergency room entrance, where the restaurant would be located, would make "some interesting, pretty amazing commercial space, with 15-foot ceilings."
Dickinson Square West President Ted Savage recently told PlanPhilly that the neighborhood is largely in support of the project.
"Overall, I think the reaction has been a sigh of relief, in the sense that for way too long, even before I moved into the neighborhood, the property just been vacant, with liter problems and things of that sort," Savage said.
The community also has concerns about parking, which Savage said has long been a neighborhood problem, and, regardless of what happens with this project, will continue to be.
At the community presentation, Dickinson Square West residents learned that the project would be built in phases, starting with the townhomes. Savage said that's fine, but he wants Greenpointe to pledge to include amenities that will benefit the community - things like street trees and improvements to sewer, water and electric systems - as part of the first phase.
He reasons if that's done, then whatever happens with the rest of the development - even if the developer goes belly up - the community won't be left with a site in disarray. Savage said he got this idea while at a Central Delaware Advocacy Group meeting where another developer was asked to include amenities in phase one for a different project. But partly, the idea is relevant in this case, he said, because of neighbors' concerns over financial troubles in Lakhmna's past. More on that later in the story.
Pennsport's President James Moylan said his comunity is pushing for restaurants and other ground-floor businesses as a way to make this part of the city more walkable. “We've been emphasizing that when developers want to do any projects, especially something of this size, commercial needs to be involved,” he said.
DeMarco said the commercial portion of the project will begin with a restaurant. Depending on how that goes, other commercial property could be added.
The Pennsporter reported on the presentation the developer presented to Dickinson Square last Thursday. Learn more details and see renderings in this story by James Jennings, who covered that presentation.
“I am most definitely in support of seeing this site become an active project, and become an active part of our community,” Moylan said. The block “becomes more comfortable and walkable. Instead of a ghost of an enormous, empty building here, it would be a nice little neighborhood to walk to.”
The reuse of such a landmark is also appealing, Moylan said. The hospital has been closed since 1997. “It's iconic from its history and its visibility. To be able to reuse what's there and maintain it's distinctiveness is great.”
DeMarco said zoning approvals have been applied for. He expects variances will be needed, for the height of the townhomes, open space requirements, and multi-family use. The team is also waiting for its date with the planning commission's design review committee, he said.
Greenpointe is not Lakhmna's first company.
Projects that Lakhmna was involved with when the real estate market collapsed in the late 2000s were never completed. The Inquirer's Alan J. Heavens wrote back then about delinquent loans, foreclosures, liens and lawsuits.
These are some of the issues that neighbors have raised, said Dickinson Square West's Savage. He expects the phasing, and these concerns, will be raised by the community's zoning committee representatives at the Planning Commission Design Review Committee's January meeting.
Savage, a lawyer who is no longer practicing, said he's not sure if the lawsuits are relevant to the developer's abilities in this project, and "quite frankly, I'm not really positive it's relevant." He does think the PCPC committee should consider this when asking Greenpointe to make the project's edge and infrastructure improvements part of the first phase, however.
In a recent interview, Lakhmna said his former company, Creating Real Estate Innovations or CREI, was “just a victim of the times. We were heavily invested in the condo market. We worked it out with every bank, either returned the assets or did what the banks asked us to do.” He continued: “Every one of the banks we dealt with, we worked it out with them. Very few developers were left unscathed.”
Lakhmna said it was a “humbling moment. A humbling lesson,” and the “important part was to learn the lesson and move on, which is exactly what I did.”
What was a crowded field of developers before the crash has “gotten very thin. But people with the right talent and attitude are still around,” he said.
Lakhmna said since then, he's built commercial and residential projects, including about 60 homes in the past four years, including those houses on Latona Street, which he said have sold out.
Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.
Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates