East Falls is an attractive and unique neighborhood along the Schuylkill waterfront in Northwest Philadelphia. It is just north of Fairmount Park, and the large Laurel Hill Cemetery, at a bend in the Schuylkill River. It has been a largely working class neighborhood, adjacent to mills and other factories along the riverfront, and has many working class rowhomes lining its steep hills, but also has a wealthier enclave of single family homes. It is, also, adjacent to the very unique Manayunk neighborhood, which is separated from East Falls by the beautiful Wissahickon Falls, that empty into the Schuylkill. The rivers have always played a major role in the neighborhood’s history and development, as well as, some of its lore. The rivers brought the industry and rowhome development and have, also, created scenic views that include the Schuylkill River’s world-famous rowers. The neighborhood’s most famous resident was actress and Monaco Princess Grace Kelly, whose father was a famous Olympic and collegiate rower before having success in business and politics. In fact, East Falls has attracted many political families, including that of former Governor and Mayor Ed Rendell and his wife Federal Judge Marjorie Rendell and the late Senator Arlen Specter and his wife former City Councilwoman Joan Specter. Right now, however, East Falls is going through many changes that include innovative new housing developments and it is attracting young and creative professionals, as well as, college students who attend the expanding Philadelphia University and Drexel University’s Medical College of Pennsylvania campus.
The most innovative housing development in East Falls is, also, one of the most innovative housing developments in the city. It will be an apartment building, called Ridge Flats, and it will be built on a (mostly) long vacant lot at the intersection of Kelly Drive and Calumet Street, right at the foot of the Falls Bridge to West Fairmount Park and Lower Merion, and also along Ridge Avenue (known to locals as “The Ridge“), East Falls’ main commercial retail street. The development is being built by the always innovative Onion Flats, along with developers Grasso Holdings; the developers of a House of Blues concert hall on the Delaware River waterfront, and designed by Onion Flats’ in-house architecture firm, Plumbob. They won a competition to develop the vacant site that once had a catering hall, known as “The Rivage“, after an earlier development fell apart in the recession a few years ago. Ridge Flats will not only be innovative in its look, but also because of its many sustainable features, the most noteworthy being its use of energy-producing and energy-saving technology to become the largest energy independent, known as “net-zero energy“, building in the country, and the first in Philadelphia. It will achieve this net-zero energy independence with a large array of solar panels on its roof and energy conserving features, that will reduce energy use to be 90% less than the average apartment building. It will be certified as a “Passive House” building, a certification for such net-zero energy buildings that had started in Europe, but is starting to be adopted in American construction. Passive House net-zero energy involves producing enough energy (through the solar panels) to replace the energy consumed by the energy-efficient building. Electricity produced by the solar panels will be sent back out into PECO‘s system, so the building is not consuming any outside electricity that it isn’t replacing by the electricity produced from the solar panels. What’s more, a cutting edge piece of artwork will allow residents to see how much energy they are using.
Ridge Flats will have 146 apartments, one and two bedroom apartments ranging from 800 to 900 square feet and $1,300 to $2,000 per month, and 9,300 square feet of retail, mostly along Ridge Avenue and Calumet Street. There will be a large plaza at the intersection of Kelly Drive and Calumet Street, that will have retail (probably a restaurant or café) and outdoor seating as well. The energy consumption data artwork will likely be on the plaza. Most of the ground level on Kelly Drive will be hidden by a rain garden, fed by storm water runoff from the roof. The rain garden will hide parking for 120 vehicles, on the first floor, and will be accessible to the public, including the many walkers and runners who will pass by along the river walk across the street. There will, also, be 62 bike parking spaces. A community room for residents will overlook the Kelly Street plaza and there will be green rooves and internal courtyards at the second level. The building will be five storeys, and 66 feet tall, and will have large high-performance bay windows and glazed glass, metal, resin, and wood Trespa panels with lively colors for a very modern look. The modern look of the building will stand out in contrast to the traditional style of East Falls’ nineteenth and twentieth century residential and industrial buildings, including the decade-old Falls Ridge development that the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and Westrum Development, built to replace the long vacant Schuylkill Falls housing project with a mixed-income community. Across the street from the future Ridge Flats is the Falls Ridge senior apartment building on Ridge Avenue, which also has retail space. The developers will try to save some older trees on the site, as well. Ridge Flats was granted approval by the City Planning Commission just this past Tuesday, July 16, and will go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for approval on August 7. The project will likely receive approval from the Zoning Board, since it has support from the local community organizations. Onion Flats and Grasso Holdings would like to begin construction by next spring and they anticipate completing Ridge Flats by the spring of 2015.
Ridge Flats will be a dramatic addition to a neighborhood that has been experiencing quite a bit of new housing development. Besides Falls Ridge are Sherman Mills, a mixed-use housing and office development with artists studios and Dobson Mills, a large midrise apartment building on Ridge Avenue, just north of the Roosevelt Expressway (U.S. Route 1) Bridges leading to I-76 and City Avenue on the other side of the river. Nearby in Nicetown, a new shopping center with a large Shoprite supermarket, called Baker’s Square, has been built on part of the site of the former Tasty Baking Company’s manufacturing plant. Nearby in Manayunk, there has been considerable housing development and more is on the way, along Main Street and the Manayunk towpath and on Venice Island, a long, thin island in the Schuylkill that will, also, have a newly rebuilt recreation center, a performing arts center, and a large underground cistern to mitigate flooding along the waterfront and Kelly Drive and Main Street. Manayunk will, also, see its iconic Manayunk Bridge, an unused railroad bridge, renovated soon into a pedestrian bridge with a trail and bike path leading to the waterfront, across the river in Lower Merion, where a new river walk trail is being created in hopes of attracting more residential development on that side of the riverbank. A new 600-unit residential development is about to be built by O’Neill Properties on the Lower Merion waterfront, and will have access to Main Street from a rebuilt railroad bridge over the river. The Falls Bridge and Roosevelt Expressway Bridges lead into City Avenue, which has considerable office and residential space and may see more pedestrian friendly development because of new zoning measures requiring new construction to be close to the street. Near the Falls Bridge and the future Ridge Flats is the Wissahickon Transportation Center, a small bus station with many buses going to Center City, 30th Street Station, King of Prussia, Conshohocken, and points in Northwest Philadelphia. There are, also, regional rail stations in East Falls and Manayunk, and further up, near Roxborough at Ivy Ridge, where another 168-unit apartment development is being built between the train station and the towpath. The Rivage site has been screaming out for redevelopment to tie together these important areas and Ridge Flats will be an iconic and internationally-recognized innovative residential development.
If you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in these neighborhoods, or any other in Philadelphia, please contact me at Gabriel.firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my Long & Foster agent portal, here, or our Long & Foster Philly Center City office, here. You can, also, check out my Facebook realtor page, Gabriel G. Philly Realtor, and my twitter page, @GabrielGPhilaRE. And, you can look at Onion Flats’ website (which will soon have more info on Ridge Flats and a link to a future website for the project), here, and view renderings and my many pictures of the site and neighborhood, below.