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Reno turns into demo after engineers weigh in on Shirt Corner

2/8/2014 | Real Estate Blog

Real estate development can be a tricky business, especially when 150-year-old buildings are involved. And Philadelphia has a lot of those.

The developer of the Shirt Corner buildings in Old City is scrapping plans for the block after learning that the buildings are on the verge of collapse. The Department of Licenses and Inspections issued a demolition order on Jan. 24, shortly after we discussed the renovation. Inspectors had found enough structural issues to convince them that the building was “imminently dangerous.”

Demolition should start this week, if the weather permits. The developer said he had submitted a safety plan to L&I inspectors and expected a speedy approval.

Taking on a project like this comes with such a risk, though. The structures seemed sound — they had been standing for more than 100 years — but when workers started to peel away drywall they found wide cracks became apparent. The developer made a wise decision: He called in engineers. When they pointed out cracks and bulges in the buildings’ façade, he called on more engineers to look at it.

The assessment concluded that the structures were unsafe. It was clear that demolition was the best, if not the only, option.

So the buildings that had served as warehouses and office space for Philadelphia’s port and then as part of the retail gateway to Old City will come down. Even their landmark status cannot save them.

What the landmark status can do, though, is guide the developer’s plan B. The foundations will remain, and the planned apartments and CVS pharmacy will be built on those. The Historical Commission will have a hand in the design and materials to ensure that the new structure honors the old.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Landmark Shirt Corner buildings to be demolished,” Inga Saffron, Feb. 4, 2014