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Reuse Plan For Historic Royal Theater, On South Street, Moves Forward

By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A century-old theatre on South Street could be getting a new lease on life.  A City Council committee today gave thumbs up to a developer's plans to turn the long-shuttered Royal Theater building into new stores and apartments.

But not all neighbors are thrilled.

The Royal, on the 1500 block of South Street, was once a jazz club and movie theatre, but the site has been vacant since the 1970s and is now a gutted shell.

Developer Carl Dranoff, along with Kenny Gamble's Universal Companies, is proposing a new building constructed behind the original façade, with 45 apartments and 7,600 square feet of retail space at the street level.

Speaking at the committee hearing today was Dranoff attorney Peter Kelsen:

"The Royal Theater development promises to be a game-changing development on South Street," Kelsen said.  "We will create an adaptive reuse of this historic property, which will reinvigorate this important block of South Street."

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(Peter Kelsen tesifies on behalf of developer Carl Dranoff. Image from City of Phila. TV)


Several nearby business owners and residents appeared at the hearing in support, including Marcus Iannozzi:

"We have seen many plans (for the Royal) over the last fifteen years, and we feel this one actually has the potential for success," Iannozzi said, "and it's going to bring much-needed support to a corridor which has been struggling."

And Lauren Vidas, of the South of South Neighborhood Association, told City Council's rules committee that the project would mean new life for what is now an eyesore.

"This is a corridor that has seen tremendous growth over the last three or four years, and this (parcel) is really a large gap in that growth," she said.  "It's a blighting influence and, notwithstanding the beautiful murals on it, it's an empty shell of what that building used to be.  So we as a neighborhood are extremely excited to see this project move forward."

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(Lauren Vidas, of the South of South Neighborhood Association, testifies. Image from City of Phila. TV)


Not all neighbors, however, are excited.  A few appeared at the hearing to air their objections to the height of the proposed new structure.

Michael Gross, of the group Friends of Kater Street, voiced frustration with what he said is the developer's unwillingness to address the height issue and other concerns, such as the anticipated impact on parking.

"Dranoff's strategy appears to be a 'run-out-the-clock' strategy and make no concessions to the near neighbors," Gross told the lawmakers.  "In light of the significant zoning changes being sought, Dranoff is still unwilling to address our clearly state concerns."

Gross called the zoning changes before the committee "improper spot zoning."   The committee, though, approved the zoning changes anyway, and a final vote is expected by the full Council next week.

The councilman whose district includes that area, Kenyatta Johnson, vowed to continue working with the developer to address neighbors' concerns.

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