Blighted Beury Building may be the next North Broad Street comeback tale

Artist's rendering of rehabbed Beury Building at Boad Street and Erie Avenue, with new annex under consideration for adjacent lot.

The long-blighted Beury Building at Broad Street and Erie Avenue could be reborn as an apartment house with downstairs shops and offices, under a revitalization plan now gathering steam.

Philadelphia-based Shift Capital is readying crews to rid the building of asbestos and other environmental hazards as it closes in on a package of redevelopment aid and low-income-housing tax credits to help pay for most of the $33 million project.

Planned for the 14-story building are 80 apartment units — 50 of them for low-income renters — atop 25,000 square feet of commercial space, including offices and ground-floor retail,  said Shift Capital's chief executive, Brian Murray.

The firm, which focuses on projects that can improve economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, hopes the Beury’s overhaul will jump-start development along the commercial sections of Erie and Germantown Avenues and Broad Street that converge near the site, Murray said.

“It’s been this incredible shadow that prevented other developers and other interested parties from doing more for this community,” he said. “Our hope is that this is an actual catalyst.”

The Beury — best known by some for the (how to put it ...  indelicate) graffiti message on its north and south facades — was built in the 1920s as the National Bank of North Philadelphia but has been vacant for decades.

The windowless Art Deco ruin is often referred to as a northern counterpart to the Divine Lorraine at Broad Street and Fairmount Avenue, which stood derelict for years until its recent redevelopment.

Both are architecturally significant structures built in an era of prosperity and population growth along North Broad Street, but their condition has tracked the deindustrialization and disinvestment that impoverished the areas around them.

“I always referred to this as ‘Divine North,’ ” said former Philadelphia development director Alan Greenberger, now a fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation. “Once we got 'the Divine' under control, this is the next thing that had to happen.”

But the Divine Lorraine’s neighborhood, aided by its proximity to Center City’s business districts and the increasingly wealthy Fairmount area, has seen a recent uptick in affluence. Not so the Beury's.

The average household income in the neighborhood around the Beury Building  — within a triangular area bounded by Germantown and Hunting Park Avenues and Old York Road — was $31,900 a year in 2015, up just 6 percent from $30,136 (in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars) in 2010, according to calculations based on U.S. Census data.

Around the Divine Lorraine  — in the area bounded by Broad and 10th Streets, between Poplar and Green  — income jumped 37 percent to $34,512 in 2015. The citywide average in 2015 was $56,418, according to the census data.

Greenberger said a rehabbed Beury – helped by the throngs of commuters who board the subway and buses daily at Erie Avenue – could bring new life to the neighborhood's shopping strips, now dominated by check-cashing spots, take-out restaurants, and cellphone shops, as well as the stalwart Black & Nobel bookstore, which advertises that it ships to prisons.

A retail upgrade also could encourage more pedestrian activity between the Beury and Temple Univerity's medical campus a block to the south, Greenberger said. 

Diane Brown, 47, who was changing buses near the Beury on the way from her home in Nicetown to her job as a medical assistant, said the building’s overhaul would make a big difference.

“It’s an eyesore right now,” she said. “Either they fix it up, or they need to tear it down.”

Shift Capital’s Murray said the first concrete step toward the Beury’s rebirth will be its environmental cleanup, to be funded with a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development that covers up to $1 million of remediation costs. Work on the cleanup should begin in the coming weeks, he said.

For the redevelopment project itself, Shift hopes to tap private investment through the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, bond financing, and a publicly administered loan. It also is seeking a grant from the city's Division of Housing and Community Development to round out its financing needs, Murray said.

If the funding materializes, work could begin late this year and finish in mid-2019, he said, adding that a later stage of development could include new construction on an adjacent empty lot.

Greenberger said that change would come gradually to the area, but that Shift's project may nudge it forward.

“It's a long journey," he said. "But you have to take the first step."

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