Hard to imagine that a piece of vacant land that's right on Rittenhouse Square—on Walnut Street, no less—would be so hard to develop. Yet the lot where the Eric Twin Rittenhouse movie theater stood until it burnt down in 1994 has been vacant since then, despite two well-developed proposals.
Proposal No. 1: Philadelphia Parking Authority bought the land—almost an acre, stretching to Sansom Street—in 1997 along with the three historically certified buildings on Sansom that abut the parcel. The $35 million plan was for a large restaurant; an eight-screen movie theater designed by famed architect Robert Geddes; a ginormous parking garage; and a retail space on Sansom Street.
Neighborhood objections: The PPA's plan to have the garage and its entrance on Rittenhouse Square; the PPA's utter bungling of the eviction of the residents of one of the occupied buildings on Sansom; desire to demolish the three historically certified buildings
Obstacles: Need for re-zoning re: garage placement
Proposal No. 2: Castleway Properties bought the space in 2007 for $36 million. Along with architects KlingStubbins, Castleway hit on plans for a five-star hotel on the Square and a 50-story condo high-rise with 150 units. The ground floor would have been retail and parking would've gone underground.
Neighborhood objections: No public parking offered; need to demolish two of the three historically certified buildings on Sansom
Obstacles: Zoning overlay needed to change the block from C4 to C5 in order to have a building that tall
Now Castleway wants to either sell the parcel or enter into some kind of joint venture—perhaps the kind that doesn't involve sitting in community meetings ever again.
For our part, we liked the most recent adaptation of the space: the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's temporary Pop-Up Garden. At least that project didn't cause any controversy. Maybe they should consider making it permanent.