Revitalizing Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway: Firms Chosen to Transform Historic Family Court Building and Adjacent Parking Lot

CourtyardSubmitted Image / Credit: National / Frontier

PHILADELPHIA, PA — The City of Philadelphia and PIDC recently announced that National Real Estate Development, LLC (National Development) and Frontier Development & Hospitality Group (Frontier) in a joint venture known as, National/Frontier, in collaboration with Method Co, Smith & Roller, and BKP Development Group, have been selected as the development partners for the redevelopment of 1801 Vine and 1901 Wood Streets, adjacent to Philadelphia’s iconic Benjamin Franklin Parkway. In August 2022, following an extensive request for qualifications (RFQ) the City announced that four development teams had been shortlisted for the opportunity to reimagine the sites, with a requirement to incorporate the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP)’s relocation in the proposal along with the Free Library of Philadelphia’s expansion and new Children and Family Center.National/Frontier’s winning proposal is poised to redefine the heart of Philadelphia’s cultural landscape along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. This visionary partnership brings together a commitment to preserving the city’s heritage while ushering in a new era of innovation and cultural significance. National/Frontier will partner with Method Co., Smith & Roller, and BKP Development Group, resulting in minority equity ownership of the project and supporting a key priority of the RFP that was issued to the shortlisted firms. This unique structure and proposal will bring meaningful participation and growth for M/W/DBE companies. The proposal envisions a dynamic transformation that aligns seamlessly with the surrounding community. AAMP, a cornerstone of the city’s cultural heritage, will be relocated to a state-of-the-art new facility adjacent to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 1901 Wood Street. This marquee location pays tribute to the Museum’s profound significance and places it in the esteemed company of other iconic institutions lining the Parkway. The City of Philadelphia opened AAMP during its bicentennial celebrations nearly 50 years ago, becoming the first city in America to fund and build an institution dedicated to preserving, interpreting and exhibiting the heritage of African Americans.“We are thrilled to embark on this transformative journey with National Development and Frontier,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “This project stands as a testament to our commitment to honoring the past while building a future that reflects our values and aspirations. The African American Museum of Philadelphia’s relocation to a brand new facility on the Parkway, the city’s most celebrated cultural thoroughfare, signifies a historic move that rightfully places it alongside Philadelphia’s most prestigious museums. I want to thank the PIDC team for leading a thoughtful and strategic process and we’re pleased to see this project also incorporate new amenities for our residents through an expansion of the Free Library of Philadelphia.”The winning redevelopment plan also reimagines The Family Court Building at 1801 Vine Street. Modeled after palace buildings on Paris’s Place de la Concorde, the building will be converted into a boutique hotel with complementary modern amenities including a signature restaurant, bar, and event spaces, drawing the public in and activating the grand Vine Street entrance.“The selection of a development team for the Family Court building is a significant step forward for Philadelphia,” said City Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District). “And the inclusion of the African American Museum of Philadelphia is incredibly important for Philadelphia. The stories of African Americans are the stories of Philadelphia, and they deserve to be told in the center of our City’s arts and cultural community. This is a tremendous day for our city and the African American community.”“The City and PIDC have been gracious and considerate partners throughout this process, and we are excited to take the next steps of this journey with National Development and Frontier,” said Dr. Ashley Jordan, AAMP President and CEO. “The addition of a new building to Philadelphia’s cultural corridor that will be dedicated to AAMP and our mission to bring people together in celebration of the Black experience is a testament to the City’s commitment to telling a history inclusive of our stories, perspectives, and people.”In addition, the proposal incorporates the Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central building’s expansion, which will advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity through the new Children and Family Center (CFC) and auditorium, in furtherance of the Free Library’s mission and its vision of building an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.“The Free Library of Philadelphia is pleased this project will be providing additional library spaces for the community. It’s also exciting that the African American Museum of Philadelphia will be joining us on the Parkway. We look forward to exploring more opportunities for our organizations to collaborate in the future,” said Kelly Richards, President & Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia.“The National/Frontier development team is thrilled to be selected as the developer to work with the city on this transformative project. We look forward to collaborating with AAMP and contributing to the revitalization of the iconic Parkway Central Library while giving new life to The Family Court Building,” said Daniel Killinger, President, National Real Estate Development. “This visionary project hopes to honor the original intent of the Parkway while seamlessly integrating the site into the surrounding neighborhoods, bolstering the cultural tapestry of the Parkway and Logan Circle.” “We recognize that this project holds immense importance for Philadelphia and its residents,” said Evens Charles, Founder & Managing Principal, Frontier Development & Hospitality Group. “The collaboration between National Development, Frontier and our partners, coupled with the City’s bold leadership in driving the project to fruition, will result in a development that seamlessly blends heritage with progress. We look forward to honoring Philadelphia’s rich and vibrant legacy of African American arts and culture in all aspects of this project.” The timing of construction will depend on several major factors, including when the project obtains appropriate transaction approvals, the City and developer negotiate a full set of terms and conditions for the overall development and the developer obtains all necessary project permits and approvals. This is a large project with complex building types, historic rehabilitation, site work, utilities and infrastructure. The current estimate, which is subject to change, is for the proposed project to be completed about five years after the selection process concludes, in 2028 at the very earliest.Regarding the process, PIDC released a request for qualifications (RFQ) in July 2021 for interested developers to respond and submit qualifications for the redevelopment of the two adjacent sites. Consideration and evaluation of RFQ responses occurred in the spring of 2022, when four of seven responses were shortlisted for participation in the subsequent request for proposals (RFP) in August 2022. The initial RFP submission deadline was extended to allow the shortlisted development teams the opportunity to propose locating AAMP at 1901 Wood Street instead of the former Family Court Building at 1801 Vine Street, if it could do so without adversely impacting the Free Library’s expansion plans or the needs of AAMP, including location visibility.“PIDC—on behalf of the City of Philadelphia—has proudly managed the process of choosing a proposal for redeveloping this historic site, and the collaborative proposal between National/Frontier and their development partners represents a unique fusion of sustainable, forward-thinking development and a profound respect for Philadelphia’s history,” said Jodie Harris, President of PIDC, Philadelphia’s public-private economic development corporation. “While all submissions were strong, this proposal offered the best mix of development team diversity, experience, project financing plan, and a very thoughtful design and support plan for both AAMP and Parkway Central Library’s expansion. PIDC is committed to catalyzing major projects that create quality jobs, advance equity, and promote sustainability, and the development team’s integration of history and modern innovation exemplifies the creative vision that will help define the future of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.”After the RFP submission deadline February 2023, the selection committee underwent a period of evaluation and consideration of the responses. The selection committee included staff from the City’s Department of Public Property, Department of Planning and Development, Free Library of Philadelphia, along with officials from the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Logan Square Neighbors Association, and PIDC. The committee reviewed the proposals with a specific focus on commitment to equity and inclusion, proposed uses, quality, experience, financial capacity and cost, feasibility, community impact, and the inclusion of an economic opportunity plan.

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