Monday, October 25, 2021

Multibillion-Dollar Philadelphia Redevelopment Project Gets Dubbed ‘Bellwether District’

 By Linda Moss CoStar News

The multibillion-dollar redevelopment of a former oil refinery site in Philadelphia, a project touted as what will be one of the largest and most strategically located U.S. logistics hubs, now has a moniker that reflects the times.

Developer HRP, formerly known as Hilco Redevelopment Partners, on Monday announced the 1,300-acre South Philadelphia property it acquired for $225.5 million in June 2020 will now be called the Bellwether District. The company, based in Chicago, purchased the site of the former Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery at 3144 W. Passyunk Ave. in a bankruptcy auction.

"This is a poster child of environmental and social justice, let's call it that," Justin Dunn, HRP senior vice president of development, told CoStar News. "The amount of remediation, the amount of development that is going to go into this site — that was 150 years a refinery — and now turning that into an economic and environmental sustainable engine for this region I think is really, really powerful. And we're future-proofing this as much as possible, everything from the energy to the environmental, to the types of buildings, the types of life-science products. ... And those jobs are sustainable for generations to come."

HRP described the refinery as a symbol of the Industrial Revolution for more than a century in Philadelphia — and a factory that polluted its site. Now it has become the latest U.S. brownfield set to be transformed into a new kind of industrial use, mainly distribution, in an environmentally friendly fashion. HRP, the real estate development unit of Hilco Global, is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to decommission, demolish and clean up the property for actual construction, which is expected to start the end of 2022 or early 2023, according to Dunn.

HRP is removing 35,000 tons of asbestos, 850,000 barrels of hydrocarbons, 100 buildings, and 950 miles of pipe from the refinery.

The redevelopment of the Bellwether District is expected to take up to 15 years, "resulting in one of the largest and most strategically significant multi-modal logistics hubs in the country that leverages the site's unparalleled infrastructure and location," according to HRP. The parcel is within an eight-hour drive of one-third of the nation's population, the developer said.

The property encompasses 2% of the land mass of Philadelphia, will create an estimated 19,000 permanent jobs and aspires to be home to global leaders in e-commerce, logistics and life sciences. Roughly 10 million square feet of the project will be devoted to Class A industrial uses, according to Dunn, and 4 million to 5 million square feet is slated for life sciences firms.

Its full tenant roster will include e-commerce, warehouse and distribution companies, as well as light manufacturing, rail and marine operations at the site, in addition to life science, which will take up over 250 acres of the site.

Innovator Role

The Bellwether District name, with its tag line of “Next Starts Here,” was the end result of extensive research, according to HRP, "and reflects Philadelphia’s role as an innovator and achiever of many firsts for the country from the first library, hospital, and medical school to the birthplace of a new nation."

"A bellwether is really a meter or an indicator of trends," Melissa Schrock, HRP senior vice president of mixed-use development, said. "And we see the redevelopment of a very large piece of property as an indicator of what's to come in the future for Philadelphia, so that's why we selected this name."

There's already been inquiries from potentials tenants, according to Dunn.

"There's been a lot of interest in this site based on its location itself and its proximity to New York, the city, Philadelphia, New Jersey and that region," he said.

As part of the project four new city streets are being created, with two of them paying homage to historic Black Philadelphians: James Forten, a Philadelphia businessman and abolitionist, and Frances Harper, one of the first Black women to be published in the United States.

The new Bellwether District name will be featured on buses and various billboards on Interstate 95, Penrose Avenue, the Schuylkill Expressway and other major commuting routes.

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