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Neighbors begin talks on future of Frankford Chocolate Factory

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“Washington Avenue is a blank slate. What should Washington Avenue be?”

What’s to become of the Frankford Chocolate Factory.
Courtesy of Google Earth Pro

Meetings of the South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA) typically draw a small crowd, but last night more than 200 concerned and curious neighbors, preservationists, and developers attended SOSNA’s preliminary meeting to consider potential uses of the Frankford Chocolate Factory at 2101 Washington Avenue.

SOSNA representatives led the discussions, together with local real estate consulting firm U3 Ventures, local architect Cecil Baker, and two representatives of the owner group, Jake Ketchem and Anthony Nguyen.

The 2.5-acre property, which occupies an entire city block and borders Graduate Hospital and Point Breeze, has been vacant for the past decade and was most recently purchased in November 2015 for $7.8 million. Ketchem and his brother had been looking for a site to build a large-scale climbing gym in Philadelphia, before hearing about the rare opportunity to buy the Washington Avenue property.

The Frankford Chocolate Factory stretches one city block along Washington Avenue.
via Google Streetview

Ketchem purchased the building with other investors, and the group is currently exploring development options. That’s why it decided to host a series of preliminary meetings with the community.

Composed of a collection of buildings of various heights, footprints, and ages, the main L-shaped structure in the center of the property was originally built in 1865 to house the Howell & Brothers wallpaper company. In later evolutions, it was used by the American Can Company, as a John Wanamaker warehouse, and finally from the 1970s until 2006, by the Frankford Candy and Chocolate Company. It went on to become the biggest chocolate bunny manufacturing site in the world.

The site currently bears I-2 zoning, which classifies its permitted use as a medium industrial district. The general consensus at the meeting was that the zoning should be changed to reflect a use more suitable to what is now a predominantly residential area.

With other developers taking interest in Washington Avenue, such as Bart Blatstein’s recent purchase and anticipated development of the northeast corner lot of South Broad Street and Washington Avenue, the future use of 2101 Washington Avenue has the potential to play a key role in the new character of this formerly industrial corridor.

“Washington Avenue is a blank slate—what should Washington Avenue be?” architect Cecil Baker asked the attendees of yesterday’s SOSNA meeting.

“This is a great opportunity,” Baker continued. “It offers the potential of being a transformational project. It not only builds on what you have, but offers an opportunity to lead a new direction.”

After the meeting’s initial introductions, attendees were encouraged to describe how the site could be best used to serve the neighborhood. Among the ideas that were discussed included:

  • Underground parking
  • Preservation
  • Adaptive reuse of the original building
  • A co-working space for some of the neighborhood’s innovative ventures
  • Making Washington Avenue more pedestrian-friendly through improved landscaping, wider sidewalks, and better street lighting

Defined as “a meeting before the meeting before the meeting” by John Adler, co-chair of SOSNA’s zoning committee, yesterday’s meeting will be followed by two others in the coming months. The project team intends to present a proposal in September, followed by an additional zoning review with SOSNA and introduction of the newly proposed ordinance.