Second residential project emerges for Jewelers Row, after Toll condo proposal

The owner of the Jewelry Trades Building on Jewelers Row is following the lead of Toll Bros. down the street, with potential plans for a condo or apartment project on its property, as well.

PRDC Properties LLC secured a zoning permit last week to top the six-story 1930s building, home to dozens of metals workshops and gemstone studios, with another six floors of dwelling units, according to a notice from the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections.

There are no immediate plans for any such construction, the company said.

The plan submitted by PRDC calls for 54 residential units at 740 Sansom St., on Jewelers Row’s southwest corner. It follows efforts by Horsham-based Toll to demolish several properties to the east for a new 115-unit, 29-story condo tower.

PRDC said in an emailed statement that it moved to obtain permits for the residential overbuild in light of the public reaction to Toll Bros.' plan, which has been slammed by historic preservationists and by tenants of the buildings targeted for demolition.

Toll's plan has prompted "considerable uncertainty in terms of potential restrictions on future development,” PRDC said.

“We consider it our responsibility to protect our tenants and our asset from any agenda-driven limitations that city agencies may seek to impose on Jewelers Row and the surrounding area," the company said. “It was incumbent upon us to take preemptive steps to obtain zoning approvals for the kinds of activities we anticipate may be subject to such limitations, irrespective of any present plans to pursue development at this time.”

Recent projects by PRDC, whose own offices are in the Jewelry Trades Building, include the conversion of the former TransAtlantic building at 430 Fairmount Ave. into apartments and the rehabilitation of the fire-damaged former Lincoln Apartments at 1222 Locust St. The company is owned by former Building Industry Association of Philadelphia president David Perlman.

PRDC acquired the Jewelry Trades Building, also known as the Neff Building, in 2011 in a deal that involved a loan from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., which continues to hold title to the property until the financing is repaid.

The building has been a regional center for jewelry production for more than 80 years and now accommodates more than 42 watchmakers, diamond cutters, ring casters, and other tradespeople, according to its website.

The zoning permit obtained by PRDC leaves those uses of the building intact, with only the six-story addition at the top being designated for residences.

"It's a cornerstone, an anchor, of Jewelers Row," Hy Goldberg, head of the Jewelers Row Business Association and owner of the Safian & Rudolph jewelry store, said of the building. 

At least one jeweler with a workshop in a structure eyed for demolition by Toll has relocated into the Jewelry Trades Building, Goldberg said.

Though he had no direct knowledge of PRDC's plan for the building, he said he supported the idea of an added residential component that retained the existing businesses below. 

"It brings more people to the area," Goldberg said. "It makes it more of a 24-hour street instead of a 9-to-5 street."

Paul Steinke, who has been leading opposition to Toll's condo proposal as executive director of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, said he is encouraged by PRDC's plan to build atop the building, rather than replacing it.

"It could be a positive addition to the city because it does seem like they're incorporating preservation into their plans," he said. 

The Toll Bros.’ plan appears not to have progressed since Jan. 30, when L&I requested more information from the company to support its application for a zoning permit for the project.

In that application, Toll requested permission to combine its development site with surrounding lots for the purposes of calculating how large a building it can construct through a zoning concept known as “unity of use.”

Toll has two months from the date of L&I’s request, or until March 31, to respond or request an extension. It also has the option of filing a new zoning application for the site.

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