Finally completed, 500 Walnut is the latest ultra-luxury building to join Philly's skyline

Caitlin McCabe, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Tuesday, October 17, 2017, 6:27 PM

The 500 Walnut condominiums, all glass and steel, rise over Walnut Street and Fifth Street on Tuesday — the day of its grand opening.

The condominium tower that made Philadelphia history last year when it sold its penthouse for a record-breaking $17.85 million celebrated its grand opening Tuesday, at a ceremony joined by Mayor Kenney, city officials, and developers from across the region.

The glass and steel of the 500 Walnut Condominiums, center, rises between the buildings at 5th and Walnut St. in Philadelphia as seen on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Developer Tom Scannapieco walks Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on the terrace of his 500 Walnut Condominiums to show the mayor the view of Independence Park during the grand opening on October 17, 2017 MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Developer Tom Scannapieco, left, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney admire the glass facade of Scannapieco�s 500 Walnut Condominiums during it�s grand opening on October 17, 2017. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney walks through the communal area on the 4th floor of the 500 Walnut condominiums during their grand opening. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, left, and developer Tom Scannapieco, in the guest bedroom of a 4th floor condo at 500 Walnut condominiums. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Fourth floor terrace at 500 Walnut condominiums. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
The indoor lap pool and hot tub. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Billiard room, 500 Walnut condominiums. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney peeks over the railing during tour of the new 500 Walnut condominiums at 5th and Walnut in center city Philadelphia. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Photo Gallery: Grand Opening 500 Walnut Condominiums

The completion of 500 Walnut, the 26-story high-rise that sits across from Independence Hall, marks the end of the more than three-year endeavor by developer Tom Scannapieco to build on one of Philadelphia’s more challenging sites. Even more, with most condos in the building priced between $3.1 million and $9 million, 500 Walnut adds yet another ultra-luxury residential tower to Philadelphia’s skyline — signaling an ever-growing category of high-end real estate in the city as Philadelphia continues to grow wealthier and more attractive.

“We strove to build a world-class building, the likes of which Philadelphia has not yet seen,” Scannapieco said at the event, as Kenney, City Councilman Mark Squilla, and architect Cecil Baker flanked him. Completing such a building, Scannapieco added, was “the pinnacle of my success.”

Developer Tom Scannapieco, left, and Philadelphia Mayor Kenney look up a the glass facade of Scannapieco’s 500 Walnut condominiums.

Getting to this point, however, was no easy feat for the Bucks County-based developer and his team of architects and engineers. Before Scannapieco purchased the 18,155-square-foot site in May 2014 for $8.5 million, the land had sat vacant for more than a decade as numerous local and national developers, including 500-506 Walnut Street Associates, tried — and failed — to make a project work. Situated just steps from Independence National Historical Park, special attention had to be paid to not distract from the view from the Liberty Bell to Independence Hall. Zoning variances for the property were contended with. And the site itself, which is narrow in width, had to support a carefully and delicately designed building. Most developers, Baker said, could not make the numbers work at such a small site.

“I’ve been identified with this site for many years — and did many plans for developers from New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and they could never make it work,” said Baker, who designed 500 Walnut with his team at Cecil Baker + Partners. “And they walked away from this, a little bit poorer and with bruised egos.”

“And then along came Tom, and when Tom saw this site, he said, ‘Wow,’ ” Baker continued. “And he so got it, because Tom is a Philadelphian.”

WSP USA, the New York-based structural engineer company that worked on the One World Trade Center building in New York City, also assisted with the 500 Walnut project to make its sleek design work. Ultimately, Scannapieco said Tuesday, the building was designed to be just 50 feet wide.

Philadelphia Mayor Kenney , right, walks through the communal area on the 4th floor of the 500 Walnut condominiums.

Today, the result of the collaboration is 35 condos, which currently, Scannapieco said, are more than two-thirds under agreement — the most he has ever had claimed at the time of a grand opening. The least-expensive unit, measuring 1,800 square feet, is under agreement for $1.8 million. The most expensive unit, the 8,900-square-foot penthouse — once rumored to be purchased by Beyoncé and Jay-Z (it’s not) — is under agreement for $17.85 million. Four of the sales, Scannapieco said, have been settled.

Still, there is a lot of work ahead before the building is finished. As of Tuesday, only the lobby, the exteriors of the building, and the amenity floor — which includes a full-size lap pool, a conference room, and a billiards room — have been completed. A fully automated, underground parking system that can park and retrieve vehicles without a valet is also ready for resident use. So is a fourth-floor terrace, with clear views of Independence Hall.

However, most of the units inside are still only raw space, awaiting buyers’ architects who will design the units’ layouts before residents move in.

In the meantime, Scannapieco is already trying to work out details on his next project: a residential tower at the Nelson building in the heart of Society Hill. Scannapieco put the building, located at 222-230 Walnut St. under agreement earlier this year. Currently, he said, he is working to purchase the air rights of at least one of his adjacent neighbors at the site to achieve more density. If he succeeds, Scannapieco said he is planning between 30 and 50 ultra-luxury units in a high-rise on the Society Hill site, all of which will be priced similarly to 500 Walnut.

Scannapieco said he plans to work with Baker again on the next project.

The fire place and communal area of the terrace on the 4th floor.

Caitlin McCabe, STAFF WRITER

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