Friday, May 18, 2012

Phila. archdiocese building to become apartments

by Natalie Kostelni
"Nolen Properties and PMC Property Group have teamed up to buy an old office building in Society Hill with plans to convert it into 66 apartments.

Referred to as Walnut Place, the property sits at 312-22 Walnut St. It was sold by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which bought it in 1996 for $1.25 million. The church had in 2000 considered using the 6-story, 68,460-square-foot building to house a Catholic Heritage Center and even had architectural plans drawn up for that use but decided against moving forward with the center as it deals with the financial and other fallout of a clergy sex-abuse trial.

“Since there isn’t a need for the property now we decided to sell it,” said Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

"The archdiocese has put a range of properties up for sale as part of a reorganization that initially included consolidating and shuttering 45 elementary schools and closing four high schools.

“We have to look at all aspects of the archdiocese now and in the months ahead and make honest assessments about what is needed and what’s not,” Farrell said.

The building sits next to Old St. Joseph’s Church, which was the first Catholic Church in Philadelphia. It sits on a little more than a half acre and has parking for 34 vehicles. It was constructed in 1926 as an office and warehouse building and is listed on Philadelphia’s Register of Historic Places.

The building has sat vacant for the last 15 years.

The church had put the property up for sale at about the same time the recession started, and it had originally been listed for $7.8 million. “Twelve offers were made [in the earlier bidding] and we picked the top guy, who was going to put a hotel there. It’s hard to do a hotel there. This time, it sold for roughly $5.5 million and the conversion project will cost an estimated $13 million.

PMC Property and Nolen put the building under contract a year ago. Officials from Nolen of King of Prussia and PMC Property of Philadelphia declined to comment. They did work with Society Hill Civic Association to reach a compromise over some issues that the organization had concerns about. One issue was curbing traffic on a narrow, historic street called Willings Alley that runs along the back of the building that is used as the main entrance for Old St. Joseph’s, said Lorna Katz Lawson of the organization’s zoning and historic preservation committee.

“We wanted to reduce traffic and protect the street,” Katz Lawson said.

Other issues included how the roof decks would be used. However, the biggest worry was the conversion itself. Most neighbors also preferred to have the building converted to condominiums rather than apartments but realize that banks aren’t financing condo projects like they were and now prefer making loans on multifamily rental projects.

“People move in and out and turnover is higher with rental and there’s a lot of wear and tear and disruption on the building and street,” Katz Lawson said.
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