Walking around the blocks that neighbor the intersection of Fifth and Bainbridge streets, there are pretty much three answers to the question “Have you heard about the hotel that’s coming?”
They are: “What hotel?,” “Yeah, the yuppies are coming” and “It’s going to be great.” Despite the business deathtrap that seems to inhabit the southwest corner of the intersection (former home to Adsum, Tapestry, Coquette and a Thai place), developer Ilan Zaken sees potential in a sizable chunk of real estate across the street.
“When these buildings became available, I did not initially see the opportunity for the hotel concept,” Zaken said. “It evolved when I saw that there was a definite need for a neighborhood-oriented boutique hotel which was intimate and reasonably priced with a good restaurant for the corner location. The remainder of the Fifth Street properties will be retail on the ground floor with apartments above.”
When John C. Paul initially invested in a headquarters for his bag business, this neighborhood was drastically different. In fact, when the structure at 632 S. Fifth Street was built in 1920, the address where Paul & Sons operated a paper company for almost a century, the nearly 3,900-square-foot property likely sold for four figures. Zaken spent $2.2 million two Octobers ago and plans to convert the listless corner into an attractive mixed use site. One can imagine that when the inheritors of a dying business in Queen Village decided they didn’t want to keep it alive, there was plenty of incentive to sell.
“I suspect the previous owner bought the property for a few thousand dollars decades ago,” Michael Hauptman, an architect and the chair of the Queen Village zoning committee, said. “$2.2 million must have looked pretty good.”
To some area residents and business owners, this sale and large-scale rehabilitation is a sign of the times. Ground has already been broken on the Kater Street side of the property that will house 28 hotel rooms, five luxury residential apartments, and 7,000 square feet of first floor retail space. The ideal completion date is sometime this summer, but chances are there won’t be any guests, diners, or shoppers on the northwest corner of Fifth and Bainbridge streets until next spring or summer.
What about a name?
“My favorite right now is Zaken Boutique Hotel,” Zaken said. “We are now projecting for a 2015 spring or summer opening depending on the progress of the construction. We have been working on the adjacent properties and finalizing the plans for moving forward with construction full force once we are in agreement on the final look.”
The developer is no stranger to the area. Zaken opened a retail clothing store on South Street in 1989 and has been investing in property for the past 15 years. Recent projects include Center City’s Cella Luxuria, which sells high-end furniture and accessories, and the Net, 501 South St., and 609 E. Passyunk Ave.
Hauptman referenced the impending facelift the Bainbridge Green will receive and expressed confidence that the hotel will fit in quite nicely.
“We do think it’s a big deal — a boutique hotel will be a great addition, and with the planning going on to upgrade and redesign Bainbridge Green, this development makes a great western anchor,” Hauptan said.
Joe Russakoff and his wife, Sharon, operate Mostly Books, 529 Bainbridge St. They opened, not in the same street, in ’95, and after a few relocations in the area, they’ve settled across the space from where they used to be (Five Virtues Accupuncture, 526 Bainbridge St.) and she’s not as excited as Zaken might be.
“Personally, I hate the idea,” she said. “But professionally, it could be good for business. [They are] all retail and warehouses that were in the family, a few families. And older generations died and their kids don’t want to hold on to the property. If folks want to spend $2 million on a building, why not take it?”
Although she may be hesitant about the impending changes, some said to be brought on by the presence of the Bainbridge Street Barrel House, 625-627 S. Sixth St., and its owners, the Fetfatzes family (namely the patriarch, Marinos), precious real estate in Queen Village has become desirable. Even if a giant overhaul is necessary.
“That whole area, the Barrel House, the apartments being built in the old synagogue on Sixth Street, will be transformed,” Hauptman said. “We are all very excited about that block.”
The Fetfatzes family were unavailable for comment despite multiple attempts at communication.
Unsurprisingly, Steve Jeffries of Precision Realty Group, who’s representing the leasing of the retail and restaurant spaces for his client, Zaken, is excited, too. “We’ve done a lot of work in Queen Village and Bella Vista, and we love that neighborhood,” Jeffries said. “I personally believe it’s hot for families and retail and we’re seeing more and more restaurateurs and operations wanting to open in this neighborhood.”
A family business that’s been around as long as Paul & Sons, Mitchell Cohen’s Cohen & Co. Hardware, 615 E. Passyunk Ave., has endured the changes and stays alive to watch it all go down. Cohen’s seen South Street go from skid row to a tourist-friendly commercial corridor.
“I’ve been down here since I was a kid, and I’ve seen the change,” Cohen, a nearby Bella Vista resident, said. “All this stuff, all these restaurants opening up, it’s for the new crop of people. Fifteen, 20 years ago, there’d be no way a boutique hotel would open up down here.”
Cohen remembers when houses cost $50,000.
“It was only a matter of time,” he said. “All these young professionals are moving into the city.”
Regarding the sale, he thinks “Why not, though? People like that do that, my hat’s off to them for putting money into it. It was for sale a couple years before it sold.”
Precision will be doing their best not just to fill the retail and restaurant spaces, but curate them. And Jeffries has more than just a vision for who’ll be selling clothes or cocktails; he sees a vibrant corner with outdoor seating and great mixed use.
“Our goal is to clean up the corner and improve the walkway,” he said. “We’re gonna talk to as many local retail companies as we can in regards to the property.”
Contact Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 117.