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Why Callowhill is Philly’s next fast-emerging neighborhood

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Construction permits have doubled and population is booming

One of the many buildings in Callowhill on the cusp of redevelopment.
Photo by Melissa Romero

In 2016, the number of construction permits pulled for the Callowhill neighborhood doubled year over year. The number of property sales nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015. All the while, Callowhill’s population boomed as more young working professionals moved into the neighborhood.

It doesn’t take more than a quick walk around the neighborhood to come to the conclusion that Callowhill is on the rise.

That’s the consensus of a new report by FixList and research analytics firm JLL, which deemed Callowhill, a once troubled neighborhood that served as inspiration for David Lynch’s film Eraserhead, as a fast-emerging market with plenty of room to grow, even with its already rapid transformation.

For all intents and purposes, Greater Callowhill is defined as the area between Vine, Spring Garden, North Broad, and North 2nd streets.

A couple of key details from their findings:

A majority of recently sold properties are zoned for high-density

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of properties that sold increased by nearly three-fold, from 150 to 440 properties, and many of them are zoned for high-density use. This is in response to the area’s new zoning overlay, which allows for more high-density construction in what has been typically an industrial-zoned neighborhood.

But there’s still plenty of developable land

Although property sales have tripled and issued construction permits have doubled year over year, the report found that there is still 400,000 square feet of undeveloped land in the Greater Callowhill area.

Why all the attention?

These findings are no surprise to developer Craig Grossman, whose company Arts and Crafts Holdings has been buying up Callowhill properties and restoring them since 2015. At last count, Grossman says his team has acquired a dozen properties up and down 10th Street, a collection referred to as the Spring Arts District.

“We really started here in 2015, and I think a lot of our reasoning for investing here was instinctual,” Grossman said in an interview with Curbed Philly. “I think we were looking at the topography of the city, and we could see there was all of this energy taking place in this concentric circle.”

At the time, Northern Liberties to the east was already booming, he continued. Chinatown was expanding North, North Broad’s renaissance was underway, and the redevelopment of the Rail Park, which cuts right through Callowhill, was imminent.

“It became very clear to us that this was an area that had been passed over for decades,” Grossman said. “We felt like if we could fill it in, or at least do our part in igniting change here, you could begin to knit together the other neighborhoods.”

The millennial boom

The boom of Callowhill is especially apparent in its changing demographics. The FixList/JLL report notes that the neighborhood’s total population skyrocketed between 2010 and 2014 by 30 percent—that’s 10 times faster than Philly’s population growth as a whole. Furthermore, millennials and young working professionals make up a good chunk of that growth.

This demographic tends to be attracted to the office environment that Arts and Crafts and other developers have created, converting old and often historic warehouses into creative working spaces. 990 Spring Garden, for example, is now home to companies like EducationWorks, Boco, and Azavea, which all have direct access to the new Roy Pitz Brewery on the first floor.

The Rail Park, shown here prior to breaking ground, runs right through the Callowhill neighborhood.
Photo by Melissa Romero

Affordable rents

There’s also the fact that as Center City’s leasing rates climb higher, tenants find Callowhill’s comparatively affordable rates much more reasonable. The average price per square foot here is $21. The highest office rents in Center City are about $31 per square foot, according to Center City District’s latest report.

“If you can offer an interesting product close to public transportation, close to entertainment, and walkable to the Central Business District at a price that almost feels like we’re on sale over here, it becomes a very compelling argument,” said Grossman. “I think that’s opening up a lot of eyes and leading to attracting folks up here.”

What’s next?

Callowhill’s growth is far from over, the FixList/JLL report concluded: “We anticipate continued, ongoing interest in both residential and office development in this fast-emerging neighborhood,” the researchers wrote.

Indeed, a number of big-time tenants are planning to set up shop in the Greater Callowhill area, including Target and Yards Brewery at 6th and Spring Garden. Meanwhile, an entire neighborhood within a neighborhood, marketed as Callow East, holds plenty of potential for development, too.

Grossman says it’s about time. He harkens back to his first walk around the neighborhood a few years ago: “It’s rich with history and for one reason or another, it’s been overlooked.”