The long-standing Freda Meats factory on Front Street in Pennsport could become a a mixed-use project with 48 apartments, a ground-floor parking garage, 4 townhouses and 30,000 sq. ft of commercial space. While the concept of transforming this Pennsport block is huge in itself, the major part of the project is a 120 ft. tall LED billboard that would be placed on the roof, in replacement of the outdated and just-too-short to be seen from I-95 structure currently on top of the warehouse.
At Tuesday night’s Pennsport Civic Association meeting, the room of 50 area residents expressed concerns mainly about the massive billboard that they believe would affect the neighborhood’s view, even more so than the existing Chickie’s and Pete’s billboard. Throughout the presentation it was emphasized by the development team that without this billboard, the project will not happen.
The proposed development is a five-story structure that would take the place of the meat company’s former facility. Since there are still existing residential structures on the Howard Street-side of the facility, along with a pocket park on Reed Street, the developers plan to build around those things, with the addition of four townhouses with two car parking garages along Howard. The apartments with the ground floor parking garage would be accessible through an entrance on Front Street. The current plans include a mix of one bedroom, one bedroom with den and two bedroom, “market rate” apartments that would be between 1,000 and 1,300 sq. ft. There will be 48 parking spaces in the garage for the apartments, along with another 8 commercial parking spaces.
On the north-side of the development, there would be a separate building with 30,000 sq. ft. for commercial spaces. The 8,000 sq. ft. ground floor space could become an anchor location for a Memphis restaurant looking to come to Philadelphia (Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, could it be you?). Architect Brian Newswanger also mentioned the possibility of a gym or a grocery store for the ground floor space. The upper-level commercial spaces would be for use as offices.
The problem residents had with the project was not about the apartments, townhouses and commercial space this project would bring to the neighborhood in an attempt to “reconnect to the waterfront”, but instead was related to the “eyesore” on the rooftop. The current billboard on the Freda building is 58.5 ft. tall, so the proposed development would more than double the height to 120 ft. Instead of being just a plain billboard that is lit from the front and shines light in all directions, the proposal is for a LED, light-controlled sign. The v-shaped billboard is meant to shine light solely in the direction of I-95, but residents expressed their concerns about the brightness, the shadow cast of the billboard in the daylight and overall how this structure will be seen by most of South Philadelphia.
Why does the billboard matter so much? The owner of Keystone Outdoor Advertising also owns the building, making this project not only about the fixing of this block, but about updating the billboard and making it visible from I-95, since the highway’s sound barriers now block the sign’s visibility. If the billboard isn’t approved as part of the project, the development team stated that, “there is no Plan B” for the site.