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HRP's New Plan For Former Refinery Site Includes 10M SF Of Distribution Centers

Construction at the Bellwether District is still years away, and it looks like those years will be filled with back-and-forth over what will get built.

A bird's eye rendering of what Hilco Redevelopment Partners' transformation of the former PES refinery, which it has named the Bellwether District, could look like at full build-out.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners shared an updated master plan for the logistics hub it plans to build at the Bellwether District  — the name it has given the site of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia it is working intensely to clean up — at a virtual meeting with community members June 14.

The plan, revised from what it first publicized in November 2020, calls for 15 industrial buildings totaling over 10M SF across 656 acres of land.

Buildings, ranging in size from 240K SF to nearly 1.5M SF, could be anything from last-mile distribution centers to regional logistics hubs to freezer-cooler storage, HRP Vice President of Development Kurt Carter said during the meeting.

Representatives from HRP were not available for comment on the content of the meeting when reached by Bisnow.

“As nice as it would be to build only one type of building, the market wouldn’t react too well to that," Carter said at the hearing. "We tried to have a varied product size, so that as we get different interested tenants, we would have a building to fit whatever use type it would be.”

The planned warehouses are set to include a combined 2,458 loading docks and be accompanied by 2,510 parking spots for tractor-trailers and more than 5,900 for cars.

HRP plans to build 3.2 miles of new roads across the property to carry all that cargo. But its presentation did not include plans for addressing the impact so many trucks could have on neighboring streets or the nearby stretch of Interstate 76, one of the narrowest sections along the highway's length. 

The master plan for the logistics portion of Hilco Redevelopment Partners' redevelopment of the former PES refinery.

Original plans called for fewer buildings that were larger on average.

The new changes make for a dense network of warehouses with little green or public space, a chief criticism among neighborhood advocates who saw the presentation, PlanPhilly reports. HRP did not directly address the group advocates have formed to organize community input and reaction to the Bellwether District, United South/Southwest Coalition for Healthy Communities. It has also not committed to negotiating a formal community benefits agreement.

The virtual meeting was the latest in a series of updates for the general public HRP has been holding quarterly as part of a multipronged plan to get community members on board with the Bellwether District.

“We just really want to hear from you," HRP Vice President of Corporate Affairs Mia Fioravanti said during the videoconference. 

HRP launched an online community survey form on the same day of the meeting, which it planned to leave open for two weeks, Fioravanti said. The survey contains questions seeking input on what residents want HRP to prioritize in its "giving back," Fioravanti said.

So far, HRP has already launched multiple workforce development initiatives, including a class of 38 summer interns from the neighborhood to work in various departments within HRP and its affiliates.

The remains of the fuel tank that exploded at the PES refinery in Southwest Philadelphia in June 2019, seen in November 2020 as Hilco Redevelopment Partners' cleanup of the site was just beginning.

The question-and-answer portion of the meeting consisted of three write-in questions read aloud by HRP Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Jasmine Sessoms. One consistent note of feedback was a desire for in-person meetings to create a more open line of communication. In response, HRP will begin holding its quarterly meetings both in person and virtually in September, Fioravanti said.

United South/Southwest Coalition for Healthy Communities, which also draws from local RCOs, plans to show up to those events, urging HRP to commit to green infrastructure and electric vehicles to make up for the environmental impact of operating a site with so much truck traffic.

One of the questions read during the June 14 meeting referenced a life sciences and innovation complex included in promotional material HRP has distributed in the nearby neighborhoods and is advertising in some SEPTA stations. That remains in the works for a 250-acre site to the north, separated from the logistics hub by a PECO generating facility, Carter said.

HRP's demolition efforts at the refinery are 70% complete and ahead of schedule, though representatives did not specify a timeline for when the company would be ready to move from the environmental remediation portion of its work at the site into construction.

HRP disclosed in the presentation it is targeting a 2024 completion date for cleanup of a handful of spills for which it is legally liable, including two that occurred during the demolition.

CORRECTION, JUNE 24, 12 P.M. ET: A previous version of this article misstated the audience for HRP's quarterly public meetings and the extent of progress on HRP's cleanup of the PES refinery, and displayed a rendering for a different HRP project. This article has been updated.