Executives of the Best Western Center City Hotel – known as the Franklin House to students – are considering renovating the four-story building into a skyscraping condo tower, which could eliminate all possibilities of Temple continuing to house students there.
Renovating the building, home to 176 students according to the university’s housing office, “is being explored as a possibility,” said the hotel’s general manager, Robert Jaeger, in a telephone interview. Jaeger said he was otherwise “not at liberty to discuss the lease agreement with Temple” and referred questions back to the university. Temple’s lease with the Franklin House began during the 2000-01 school year, according to the off-campus housing office.
Temple spokesman Mark Eyerly said administrators are figuring out whether the university’s lease will be continued next semester and said a decision has not yet been made.
According to Daniel Katz of Z&H Hotel Associates, the partnership that purchased the hotel in 1994, the university decides if it will extend its lease every year.
Katz said Monday that owners of the building will not close it down for renovation before most of the space in the new building is sold. Katz said owners are planning to start selling space in the proposed tower by the summer, but said “nobody can guess it now” when – or if – the project will take off.
An online report by Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, citing anonymous sources, said the hotel has already “received zoning approval for a 47-story condo tower.” The Feb. 28 post on Saffron’s blog, Skyline Online, said the building permit for the tower was quickly approved, unbeknown to area residents and neighborhood groups.
Katz said that although he cannot predict the project’s timeline he can assure Temple students that they will not be displaced by the possible renovation.
“We have a very good relationship with Temple. We met with them and told them about this deal before it came into place,” Katz said. “We wanted them to be aware of it. That’s where it stands.
“We told them that we will honor the agreement we have with them … They have to finish this year. They have an option they can have [to continue the lease] if they want,” Katz added. “We also told them it’s not a final deal. It always depends on sales. … We don’t close the hotel, we don’t do anything, if the sales don’t go the way we expect them to go.”
The Franklin House is the last off-campus residence sponsored by Temple. The university let its lease with Presidential City apartments on City Line Avenue expire on June 30, 2004. The lease of 160 units, which housed nearly 470 students, was in its fourth year when it expired.
In response to the possible project the Fairmount Civic Association, in conjunction with the Spring Garden Civic Association and the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, is holding a special neighborhood discussion tomorrow night. The public meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Highway Tabernacle Church on 18th and Spring Garden streets.
According to the FCA’s online announcement, the potential renovation “caught virtually everyone by surprise.”
“Many Fairmounters and our neighbors in Spring Garden are very concerned about issues inherent to a development of this scope … that is why the FCA, the Spring Garden Civic Association and the Logan Square Neighbor[hood] Association are banding together to hold a neighborhood meeting about the project with our elected representatives, key City of Philadelphia personnel and interested citizens,” the announcement said.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.