PHILADELPHIA — Located outside but within reach of Philadelphia’s downtown, the neighborhood of Fishtown has been labeled “up and coming” for some time.

Thanks to the increasing density of neighboring Northern Liberties, however, it stands on the precipice of unprecedented growth.

Northern Liberties is closer to the central business districts of Philadelphia, and thus was an earlier target for young residents looking to maintain proximity to the jobs and entertainment of Center City, without the ever-rising cost of living there.

Now, as townhomes are selling in the neighborhood for as high as $1M, Fishtown has taken up the mantle as the latest lower-cost option as growth continues to radiate outwards.

Ken Mallin, president of MPN Realty, agrees: “People who want a Center City lifestyle at more affordable prices have been coming to Fishtown.”

That Center City lifestyle is made possible by two things—proximity to the El and a red-hot restaurant scene. The Frankford Avenue corridor is rapidly filling with restaurants, and Front Street a block over has seen some eateries open within the past few months as well. It’s not changing, but rather reinforcing the residential quality of Fishtown.

“In great residential neighborhoods, you can have good retail, primarily restaurants,” Ken explains, “because that’s where people want to walk to, and people from outside the area will come to eat as well.”

Two different mixed-use buildings with ground-floor retail are in the development phase within a block of the corner of Frankford and Girard avenues—one on Girard by MPN Realty, and the above property at 1101 Frankford Ave. Larger-scale retail isn’t in the cards for Fishtown for quite some time, however—there’s simply not enough traffic, by car or foot, to support national retailers, except perhaps on Girard Avenue.

Gary Jonas In Northern Liberties, the story isn’t much different, with one major exception: 1002 2nd St, right across from the Piazza at Schmidt’s. MPN sold the lot to HOW Properties, which is developing it into a mixed-use building larger than anything in the area. On the ground floor, beneath 55 apartments, will be 14k SF of retail that’s 99% leased to a major retailer.

Gary Jonas of HOW (above, with Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec) couldn’t name the company before the deal is officially signed, but he promises, “It will be fantastic for residents and the community.”

It’s also close enough to Fishtown to impact residents there, just like the Piazza did when it was built 10 years ago. According to Ken, “The best thing that happened to Fishtown was Bart Blatstein putting a tremendous amount of money and effort into the Piazza—the growth just moved out from there.”

The Piazza, after leasing 12 smaller office and retail spaces in the past year, is poised to once again see a larger influx of business. Starting in the summer, over 55k SF of office space will be occupied. WeWork is opening up 30k SF of co-working space in the old Schmidt’s brewery, and Seer Interactive is moving into 25k at the Rialto building, above the incoming Wahlburger’s location. A new brewery and Neapolitan pizza concept from Landmark Americana is scheduled to follow on the ground floor months later.

All of these promise to increase foot traffic in the area, which is a good thing for Fishtown as well, since the two neighborhoods are becoming “increasingly connected,” according to MSC Retail’s Josh Weiss. After all, the Piazza is only a 10-minute walk to the corner of Frankford and Girard, and much of that—especially along Front—is waiting to be developed, with one building currently under construction at the corner of Front and Wildey.

The recently opened Fillmore music venue, soon to be joined by the new location of Philadelphia Distilling, is also in that transformational space. The addition of the Fillmore to neighborhood stalwarts like Johnny Brenda’s (featured in the recent movie Creed) just gives the area one more feather in its cap.

“Fishtown has great entertainment spaces, which is very appealing” for both homeowners and commercial developers, Gary says.

That massive development sits between the traditional boundaries of Fishtown and Northern Liberties and stands to drive even more business to the area—all of this without touching the residential core of the neighborhood.

That core is very unlikely to change, as only Frankford, Girard and Front seem likely to support the kind of traffic that increased commercial density would require. Gary sees the stretch of East Girard between Frankford and I-95 as one that could see buildup down the line, but it’s years off. And what’s more, says Gary, “If you see [commercial spaces] build along Girard, then that and the Frankford corridor should be all the neighborhood needs.”

Of course, meaningful change is coming to Fishtown, but that’s the nature of the beast. But for those nervous that the area will lose what makes it so appealing today, Josh says the shape of the neighborhood’s growth should provide reassurance.

“It seems like the process is unfolding very organically [in Fishtown],” Josh says. “You don’t have one massive development coming like the Piazza, but it will come in on a lot-by-lot basis, in a very healthy way.”

Natalie Kostelni, Reporter
Philadelphia Business Journal

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