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Waterfront agency close to choosing development team for Festival Pier site

Jacob Adelman, Inquirer Staff Writer

Updated: Wednesday, October 28, 2015, 3:20 PM

The Festival Pier area, which is controlled by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., is to be revitalized.

Jefferson Apartment Group and Haverford Properties Inc. are apparently close to being chosen as a team to develop the Festival Pier site on the Delaware River, among the most ambitious revitalization initiatives on Philadelphia's eastern waterfront.

Jefferson Apartment senior vice president Drew Chapman said his team, which has been assisted by architect Cecil Baker, will present its proposal for the site Friday to Delaware River Waterfront Corp.'s board of directors.

The appearance marks the culmination of a selection process that began in February, when the DRWC published its guidelines for the site's transformation into a mixed-use residential district with ample public space.

Three semifinalists, shortlisted from among the developers that expressed interest, were asked to provide detailed plans for the mostly vacant parcel that juts into the river from a base near Spring Garden Street.

DRWC spokeswoman Emma Fried-Cassorla said the development team selected as the top choice from the three would present its proposal Friday to the agency's board, which will vote on the plan. She declined to elaborate.

Chapman also declined to share additional details, deferring to the DRWC.

"It is their decision-making process," he said.

Baker, who also is the architect for the residential tower at the Boyd Theater site near Rittenhouse Square and for the One Riverside condo project on the Schuylkill, declined to comment, as well.

If endorsed by the DRWC's board, McLean, Va.-based Jefferson Apartment and Pennsylvania-based Haverford Properties will become developers of the second-biggest publicly owned parcel on the central Delaware, after Penn's Landing.

The DRWC, which is responsible for waterfront redevelopment from Oregon to Allegheny Avenues, holds a long-term ground lease for Festival Pier.

Its request for the site called on developers to extend Spring Garden Street into the parcel and to line the street with buildings accommodating ground-floor retail, according to the February request for expressions of interest.

The agency also asked developers to include a 50-foot-wide public promenade around the site's waterfront perimeter.

Developers were asked to limit work to an eight-acre portion of the 11.5-acre site where the pier's structural soundness can most readily be improved. Cost for those improvements was estimated at $8 million in 2013, according to the request. The plan envisions the conveyance of the DRWC's ground lease to the developer at fair market value, with adjustments for costs associated with the site's preparation.

Harris Steinberg, who led a committee that devised a master plan for the central Delaware waterfront nearly a decade ago, called Festival Pier probably the most important piece of land controlled by the DRWC.

"It's right at the foot of Spring Garden, which connects to the Schuylkill," said Steinberg, now executive director of Drexel University's Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. "But it also in many ways becomes a prototype for all other development along the river."

Jefferson Apartment Group has acquired or developed residential projects in 10 East Coast states, including the 230-unit Jefferson Pointe at West Chester, its Website says. Haverford Properties is a partner in redevelopment of a Holiday Inn in Fort Washington.

The pair apparently beat out competing proposals from Toll Bros. City Living, the urban-focused division of the Horsham-based home builder, and New York-based RAL Cos. & Affiliates, which is developing a mixed-use project beside the Divine Lorraine Hotel.

jadelman@phillynews.com

215-854-2615@jacobadelman

Jacob Adelman, Inquirer Staff Writer

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