Changes to the former cafeteria and Art Deco Auditorium at Bok are on the docket for this month’s EPX zoning meeting
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been five-and-a-half years since we first wrote about the initial zoning changes sought by Scout Ltd., the developers of the Bok Building, 1901 South 9th Street. Next week Scout will seek another zoning variance for additional changes to the property—and you’re welcome to hear what’s in store.
Bok Vocational High School opened to students in 1938. Its 3,000 students learned trades ranging from cosmetology and wallpapering to auto mechanics and bricklaying. By 2013, enrollment had dwindled to 1,000 students when the School District closed the school, leaving a great void in the educational system—and the neighborhood.
The building was put up for public auction. The winning bidder, announced in 2014, was Scout Ltd., a multi-disciplinary design and development firm led by Lindsey Scannapieco.
Since then, the 340,000 square foot building has been transformed into a thriving community of small, creative businesses, artists, makers, and entrepreneurs, a popular rooftop bar, bicycle shop, coffee shop, and public meeting spaces that have hosted (pre-pandemic) ESL classes, flea markets, craft shows, and art exhibits.
As heralded on their website, “Bok’s first three tenants were a haberdasher, a textile designer and a jewelry designer; all three lived in the neighborhood and had outgrown their rowhome work spaces.” The tenant mix now includes “150 businesses, artists, makers, entrepreneurs, and non-profits—ranging from fashion designers to filmmakers to glassblowers to architect practices to woodworkers, and even a wholesale bakery.”
The next phase of development includes plans for the 6th floor, the 7th floor roof, and the handsome Art Deco auditorium. Scout is seeking a variance for the 6th and 7th floor and a special exception for the auditorium.
The zoning special exceptions sought by the developers include:
- Assembly & Entertainment zoning use for auditorium for 600 people.
- Ability to use existing rooftops (historic precedent of use).
- Cafeteria (room 601) and 7th floor roof for Assembly & Entertainment for 300 people.
Space 601 (former Cafeteria)
According to their presentation, “the former school cafeteria (space 601) has the potential to accommodate a co-working business or large, open-plan tenant. We are seeking use for up to 300 people.”
This plan allows the existing cafeteria infrastructure and equipment to be reused. It will also allow flow from the indoor space to the 7th floor rooftop on the west side of the building.
Bok’s cavernous Art Deco Auditorium currently seats 1,465 people—1,200 people on the first floor and 265 on the balcony. It’s one of (if not the) largest space of its kind in South Philly. Bok has received a grant for $246,000 for improvements to this space.
The vision for the auditorium transforms it into a cultural and community venue. The space would engage “a mix of art, music, dance, film and experiences.” The nonprofit Friends of Bok would operate and maintain the space. The group would help “balance neighborhood needs and concerns venue viability.” In short, they’ll make sure the space is both profitable and benefits community groups.
The Friends of Bok will eventually have a Board comprised of cultural leaders and community partners that will oversee its work. The group has already engaged award-winning local design firm ISA to create plans for the space.
The Friends have already canvassed 19 local organizations to determine the frequency and nature of their programs and events. These diverse of partners includes SEAMAAC, Laos in the House, Puentos de Salud, the Philadelphia Film Society, Black Star Film Society, Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Jackson and Southwark Schools.
50% of the community partners surveyed were South Philadelphia-based. 25% suggested they would use the space 1 to 2 times per year. 50% said they would use the space less than 6 times a year.
Based on this engagement, the types of uses envisioned for the space included music (40%), movies and dance (30%), and lectures (25%).
The 1,400 seat auditorium is more space than most groups need. Neighboring Southwark School’s graduation, which hosts 600 people, would likely be one of the biggest events of the year.
40% of the community partners have no budget to use the Auditorium. As a result, the Friends of Bok commits to 15% of the events being below-market or subsidized.
The plans propose the removal of 900 of the 1,400 fixed existing seats to create a flexible-use space with 300 fixed seats. Temporary seating would allow for up to 600 people (60% of the historic capacity).
Much of the auditorium would be reconfigured into smaller spaces that would offer intimate settings for smaller events.
Happily, the historic features of the building would be retained.
And, yes, they’ve thought about parking. We’ll let you attend the Zoom presentation or read the detailed submission for the full details on that touchy subject. One tidbit based on data collected by the developers: although 87% of attendees to Bok events come from outside the building’s neighborhood, 67% of those attendees did not drive a car to the event.
The Bok proposal requires zoning variances which will be vetted by the City’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). To solicit community input in advance of the ZBA hearing the developers must present to the area’s Registered Community Organization (RCO), East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association (EPX Civic).
Due to pandemic restrictions, the meeting will held via Zoom on Monday, September 21, at 7 p.m. This will be EPX Civic’s first virtual zoning meeting.
You can view the presentation materials online. Attendees are encouraged to review them before the meeting.
During the meeting, all questions or concerns will be submitted as text via the chat feature and read by Zoning Committee members.
If you are unable to attend the meeting online but want to submit a question, sent it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A virtual vote will be conducted at the meeting.
To view the meeting on Zoom, use the following information:
ZONING MEETING DETAILS
Call in number: 301-715-8592
Zoom meeting ID: 931 7859 7452
Once you’ve seen the presentation, you can provide comments or feedback via this online survey.