Permit granted for mystery grocer on sprawling South Philly waterfront property

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A portion of this property along the Delaware River has been permitted for construction of a grocery store.

Developer Bart Blatstein has secured a permit for a new grocery store on his sprawling vacant property along South Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront.

The question is: Which one?

Germany’s expanding Lidl chain was seen as coming to the site in a recent marketing presentation for the property, but it has since disappeared from the presentation.

Whatever food retailer takes the space will be competing with a nearby Walmart Supercenter, a new Acme supermarket due to open in the summer, and other grocery options.

“Supermarkets don’t want to open a store they don’t think is going to be successful,” said Steven Gartner, managing director for retail at commercial real estate firm CBRE in Philadelphia. “They have to be doing their research and looking at a void in the market and looking at competition.”

The permit for “retail sale of food, beverages and groceries,” as well as 149 parking spaces, was awarded in November, according to a notice posted at the site. It applies to a section of the 21-acre property along South Columbus Boulevard, between Reed and Tasker Streets, that has been subdivided into a separate three-acre parcel, according to Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.

The grocery store permit is the clearest sign yet that Blatstein is moving forward with plans for a shopping center and residential complex on his waterfront property, where a Foxwoods casino had once been planned.

Some have criticized components of the proposal, such as its strip-mall-style retail, as being antithetical to larger planning goals for the Delaware waterfront that emphasize walkability and cohesion with neighborhoods to the west.

Blatstein has said the shopping center would encourage vibrancy along the South Philadelphia waterfront by making residential development there more viable.

He declined this week to discuss the grocery-store permit, saying he planned to share details about the entire development site as a whole at a later date.

Plans posted to the website of Philadelphia brokerage MSC Retail, which is marketing space on the property, show a Wawa and other retailers, in addition to the grocery store, on the western half of the property. Jason Bock, an MSC broker involved with the project, said last year that the Wawa would be a "super" version of the convenience store with a gas station.

Bock and Wawa Inc. spokeswoman Lori Bruce did not respond to messages this week seeking comment.

The proposal also includes about 670 apartment and townhouse units east of the shopping area and on a pier that is part of the property, according to MSC’s presentation.

The version of the site plan posted to MSC’s website early last year, when Blatstein’s proposal was first disclosed, identified the development’s supermarket as a branch of Germany’s Aldi Inc. chain. It was later replaced with a version that showed the market as being Lidl, another German chain that is currently expanding into the United States.

The version currently posted identifies no supermarket by name.

Lidl spokesman Will Harwood said in an email Thursday that the company is “not addressing each individual site or a total number of locations we intend to open.”

Lidl Stiftung & Co. KG, a unit of the Schwarz Gruppe grocery conglomerate, aims to own and operate 150 stores in the Eastern United States eventually, according to the German Embassy’s website. The company's Arlington, Va.-based U.S. unit acquired a nearly four-acre development site in Philadelphia’s Port Richmond neighborhood last year.