After making history with 500 Walnut, Scannapieco eyes Society Hill location for new condo tower

Moviegoers wait outside the Ritz 5 theaters in Old City, located at a Walnut Street site developer Tom Scannapieco sees as ideal for a new high-rise condo project in Philadelphia. (APRIL SAUL / File)

Bucks County developer Tom Scannapieco made history in 2016 when his 500 Walnut penthouse condominium became the most expensive residence ever sold in Philadelphia.

Now, almost one year since that 8,900-square-foot penthouse went under agreement for $17.85 million, Scannapieco is eyeing a location for his next ultra-luxury project.

It turns out that it might not be too far from his last one.

In an interview Wednesday, Scannapieco, 67, said he was in the “fact-gathering, due diligence” phase of mapping out a vision for his third luxury city condo project, following successes at 1706 Rittenhouse and 500 Walnut, which recently celebrated its topping off.

For his new project, Scannapieco said, he recently put the Nelson building at 222-230 Walnut St. in Society Hill under agreement, for an undisclosed price. The 30,500-square-foot home of the Nelson architectural firm is currently valued at nearly $3.8 million, property records show.

Yet to make his plan for the site work, Scannapieco said, he will need more than just the Nelson building: He’ll need the Ritz Five movie theaters next door, at 214 Walnut St., too.

In an ideal scenario, he said, his team would keep the movie theaters active, but would move them inside the Nelson building, creating as many as six viewing rooms. The historic facade would remain the same, but the theater would receive an “upgraded experience,” including the possible addition of reclining seats and liquor and food service.

At the Ritz Five property, Scannapieco’s plan would be to build a sleek, contemporary condo tower that would house 30 to 50 high-end units — priced close to or higher than those at 500 Walnut. Scannapieco has retained Philadelphia architecture firm Cecil Baker + Partners, which designed 500 Walnut, to create a road map for the new project.

The Ritz Five building is not under agreement.

“It’s very hard to find a high-rise site in Society Hill,” Scannapieco said. ” … And my particular interest would be to do a project like 500 Walnut.”

“If we’re going to do the Ritz, we’re going to have to replace their theater,” he continued. “Right now, we’re in a mode of determining what kind of costs are involved in doing that. We’ve got design specifications from them, as to what that they want to see, and we have our architects putting together a schematic.”

Scannapieco’s plans are nowhere near a done deal, however, and could face massive pushback.

Earlier this year, developer Leo Addimando tried to move forward with a plan to build a five-story, 65-unit building at the Acme Market site in Society Hill. But his plan was quashed by members of the Society Hill Civic Association, who adamantly opposed it, saying the proposal was out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood.

In May, Scannapieco presented his plans to the neighborhood association, which he said offered a mix of reactions both for and against the project. The president of the association, Rosanne Loesch, did not return a call for comment.

Both buildings Scannapieco is eyeing are now zoned CMX-3, or commercial-mixed use.  Height restrictions would need to be adjusted to allow for the high-rise, he noted.

“If I can’t do my plan on this site, then I’ll move onto something else and somebody else will take it on,” he said. “I’m just trying to figure out if I can get the support I need.”

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