December 19 — 12:10 pm, 2004

Winter 2004-2005 cartoon

cartoon wint04

A group of real estate investors from Bethesda, Maryland, are betting big on Philadelphia schools — the closed ones, anyway.

In the next few months, Concordia Group expects to close on a deal to purchase five school buildings put up for sale two years ago when the Philadelphia School District was trying to raise money through real estate sales. The former schools, in Pennsport, Point Breeze, Port Richmond and Germantown, had all been shut down. According to the School District, Concordia is expected to pay $6.8 million for the five buildings.

Will Collins, a co-founder and managing partner of the development company, said that along with the proposed redevelopment of Mount Sinai Hospital in Dickinson Square West, the school projects are Concordia’s first foray into Philadelphia. They were attracted, he said, by the locations.

“Infill development is something that is our focus, and we just love the idea of being in town. …” Collins said. “We just think these are great opportunities.”

In Pennsport, down the way from the Mount Sinai project, Concordia is hoping to convert the former Vare Elementary School into apartments. Early plans for the project also call for building a short row of townhomes on the property along Morris Street.

Jim Moylan, the president of Pennsport Civic Association, said that a recent community meeting about the Vare school proposal drew a lot of neighbors. Some of them, particularly those who live closest to the project, felt that the proposal included too many units and too few parking spaces. The meeting, an "uncomfortable" one, got heated at times, Moylan said, even though the parking ratio was higher than required by the zoning code.

Still, Concordia went back and lowered the number of units they were proposing (from 45 to 41) and increased the number of parking spaces (from 24 to 34), getting the project closer to a 1-to-1 parking ratio, according to Moylan. Earlier on in the process, Moylan said, Concordia agreed to let Vare serve as the property address on a local group’s application for a school charter from the School Reform Commission. The group didn’t get the charter, but Moylan said the agreement showed that Concordia is open to hearing what communities are looking for.

“They were willing to be part of the community. …” Moylan said. “They’ve been relatively simple to work with.”

Read the rest of this story at PlanPhilly

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