Arts & Entertainment

Fishtown’s wave of change

A proposed 3,000-person music venue and western bar are expected to bring waterfront development to Fishtown.

Fishtown’s waterfront can expect some major changes due to a proposal presented at a Fishtown Neighbors Association meeting last month.

A 3,000-person Live Nation music venue complete with a distillery, tasting room and bowling alley will be included in the renovation of what is currently the Ajax Metal Factory building on 1000-1052 Frankford Ave.

Across the street, the current dry ice building will undergo an addition and become a 1,000-person capacity country-western bar with outdoor seating.

Both projects were proposed by Core Realty, which is based in Old City.

“They said on the weekend at night, if there’s a show at the music venue, there’s a possibility of the entire site having 4,000 to 5,000 people,” said Matt Karp, chair of the Fishtown Neighbors Association Zoning Committee.

Despite the large amount of people expected to visit Fishtown nightly once both projects are complete, the proposed parking lot to accommodate the projects only includes 337 spaces.

“While the project was approved by the community, there were some serious concerns — parking was one,” Karp said. “People in the community didn’t feel comfortable with 337 spots for that many people, even though we are so close to the Girard stop [on the Market-Frankford Line].”

William Reed, co-owner of music venue Johnny Brenda’s, located about a block away from the proposed constructions, said that alternate methods of transportation may make the parking problem not as drastic as it may seem.

“We get a lot of bicycles, we get a lot of public transit, we get a little bit of cars — it’s not really that much,” Reed said.

Karp, however, isn’t convinced.

“Even if there’s a lot of carpooling and a lot of public transit, that still seems low,” Karp said.

Another major concern of the community is the proposed LED billboards to face Interstate 95, Karp said. While there is already one billboard that faces Delaware Avenue, the two proposed to face I-95 are perceived as unwelcome visual clutter to many Fishtown community members, Karp said.

Karp alluded to the anti-billboard group Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, which did a study in 2011 that found  how a billboard within 500 feet of one’s home can decrease property value by up to $30,000 — an unwelcome change to Fishtown’s many rooted residents.

Fishtown, a primarily residential community, and its businesses are known for its grassroots feel — not necessarily a commercial mecca. As seen in the SugarHouse Casino at 1001 N. Delaware Ave., this may be a changing characteristic. Karp said a Live Nation representative present at the FNA meeting on Sept. 11 stated that the music venue will be a Fillmore Theater.

Although the proposed music venue is potential competition for the notably smaller Johnny Brenda’s, Reed isn’t worried.

Some Fishtown residents see the proposed Ajax Metal Factory restoration as a positive improvement to the community. ( URSZULA PRUCHNIEWSKA // TTN )

Some Fishtown residents see the proposed Ajax Metal Factory restoration as a positive improvement to the community. ( URSZULA PRUCHNIEWSKA // TTN )

“If they build it as they are describing it — even just with Live Nation, I’ve heard of a lot of proposed places that never end up happening, so I always have to [try not to] get too worked up — in general, we’d get a little boost with Johnny Brenda’s,” Reed said. “I certainly don’t think it would take any business away from Johnny Brenda’s, biggest reason being that what we do — a 100-300 capacity room — is a little different than a 3,000 person room.”

Reed sees more benefits in the project than just a boost for his own business, however.

“I’m actually excited that they are reusing the [Ajax Metal Factory] building — it’s a pretty cool building that should be saved,” Reed said.

Fishtown’s residents are also fond of this aspect, Karp said.

“A lot less new construction, a lot less disruption, and it also means that these existing buildings that have been around for ages that everyone in the neighborhood has grown up with is going to be repurposed from the vacant building that it is and turned into something that everyone can use,” Karp said.

Additional positives of the project include the community’s trust in the developer due to previous projects that resulted in a reduction of vandalism and a cleaner aesthetic for Fishtown, as well as a safer atmosphere for residents walking in the area at night.

The new venues are expected to employ 600 to 700 combined, Karp said — a notable boost for residents seeking jobs.

The most discussed benefit of the project, however, seems to be the increase in the development of the Delaware River Waterfront in Fishtown.

“A lot of people at the meeting commented that this is something that can spur waterfront development, and this is something that they are interested in,” Karp said. “They want development on the waterfront that will allow the public to have more access to the waterfront, but also to connect the neighborhood to the waterfront, because we are so divided by [I-95]. [I-95] cuts right through us, and really is a barrier from the waterfront.”

While preserving Fishtown’s history by keeping the remaining buildings, the project’s potential waterfront development promotes change in the community, despite the multiple concerns of the residents.

Correction: Matt Karp was referring to Fishtown’s Girard stop on the Market-Frankford Line, not the Girard stop on the Broad Street Line in North Philadelphia.

Jenelle Janci can be reached at

One comment on “Fishtown’s wave of change

  1. That sure ain’t the Broad Street line, kids

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