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Southern Land Adding $180M Apartment Building To Rittenhouse Square

Southern Land Co. is adding another multifamily tower to Rittenhouse Square before its first history-making project in the neighborhood has even topped off.

A partial rendering of the apartment building Southern Land Co. plans to build at 1620 Sansom St. in the Rittenhouse Square portion of Center City, Philadelphia.

The Nashville-based developer closed on the purchase of a 19K SF parcel of land at 1620 Sansom St. for $24.5M on Dec. 31 in a transaction brokered by Rittenhouse Realty Advisors, which represented the anonymous seller. 

Southern Land plans to raze the parking garage currently sitting at 1608-1634 Sansom St. and build a $180M, 28-story multifamily tower with 32K SF of retail on the ground floor. Plans call for 308 units and a 55-car underground parking garage, with vertical construction scheduled to begin in August and completion estimated by mid-2023.

"This was one of the last, best development sites in Rittenhouse Square," said Rittenhouse Realty Managing Partner Ken Wellar, part of the team that marketed the property and procured the buyer.

Wellar was referring to the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, since Southern Land is building the 48-story apartment skyscraper The Laurel at 1911 Walnut St., which had been the last undeveloped land surrounding Rittenhouse Square itself. The Sansom Street property is zoned CMX-5, meaning Southern Land's plan is by-right.

Southern Land broke ground on The Laurel in 2019 and most recently poured the concrete for the 22nd floor. It is targeting the fall of 2022 for completion, Southern Land Development Manager Brian Emmons said. When complete, the Laurel will be the tallest residential building in Philadelphia.

After putting the property under contract on Dec. 23, 2019, Southern Land took its plans through the Civic Design Review process and pulled the necessary demolition and construction permits. Over a year later, the deal closed without a change in price and with construction all but ready to begin, Wellar said.

The parking garage and retail at 1608-1634 Sansom St. as of September 2019

The four-story garage that now occupies the site, which also has several small retail storefronts on the ground floor, is set to be demolished in April. Some of the storefronts, like fast-casual Asian restaurant Nom Nom Bowl, have already closed, while the remaining businesses — a dry cleaner and the Center City location of fried-chicken-and-donut daytime spot Federal Donuts — will close in mid-March.

Before agreeing to sell 1620 Sansom to Southern Land, the previous owner, identified by Wellar only as a New York-based family office, had planned to construct a multifamily building at least partially leased to short-term rental company Sonder. By the time Southern Land became involved, that agreement had fallen through, months before the coronavirus pandemic torpedoed Sonder's business model.

“Part of us acquiring the project was ensuring that [Sonder was no longer involved],” Emmons said. “We didn’t want any restrictions when we bought the property. Sonder was never a part of our development.”

Though the pandemic has largely neutralized the appeal of urban living for the time being, Southern Land is confident that the live-work-play environment will be desirable again by the time its two huge developments are completed. If that comes to pass, they could hardly be in better locations to capitalize.

“With the intersection of the residential district and the business district, we consider this the marquee location for city dwellers who want to live close to where they work and be part of the urban culture,” Emmons said, noting that 75% of the units are planned to come with balconies. “Being able to take in the views of Center City, from Center City, is truly extraordinary.”