October 21, 2021
Downey's Irish Pub, a fixture on South Street for decades, appears on track to be replaced by a mixed-use building that will preserve a ground floor commercial presence.
Downey's had a long and storied history at Front and South streets before closing in 2016, with a prominent facade displaying the pub's name and a covered balcony wrapping around the structure.
The property, which encompasses 526 S. Front St. to 109-11 South St., was purchased at a sheriff's sale for $1.15 million in 2017, raising questions about the future of a site that marks the eastern edge of the South Street corridor.
In July, Philadelphia issued permits to Ambit Architecture to demolish the building. Records from the Department of Licenses & Inspections described a plan to redevelop the site with a mixed-use building that includes 18 apartments and ground-floor retail space.
We now have a first look at renderings of the building proposed at the Downey's site.
Rich Villa of Ambit Architecture previously told the Philadelphia Business Journal that the location has "been dead for far too long," indicating a desire to keep a retail component in the area, though it's still unclear what that might be.
Ambit Architecture led the reconstruction of nearby Bridget Foy's at 200 South St. after the building was destroyed by a fire in October 2017. The restaurant reopened earlier this year with three residential units located above it, so the firm has experience in this type of mixed-use property, if another restaurant does turn up in the plans.
The proposed new building will include a roof deck, a cellar and six dedicated bicycle parking spots.
Downey's opened in 1976 under owner Jack Downey, who sold the property to his chef, Domenico Centofanti, in 2003. Since then, Downey's had been on a downward spiral.
In 2005, Centofanti's brother shot and injured their mother and then killed himself in the upstairs apartment while diners ate a Mother's Day brunch. Centofanti filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and the business appeared on the first season of Jon Taffer's "Bar Rescue" the following year, after it had been shut down for health code violations.
When the bar closed, Centofanti owed Philadelphia more than $80,000 in taxes and interest in advance of the eventual sheriff's sale. The bar's liquor license had been placed in safekeeping the previous year. No new owner or tenant had stepped forward to repurpose the building in recent years, and Ambit Architecture pursued zoning variances to set the stage for the demolition and project now taking shape. The Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the redevelopment this week.
Though the area around Front and South streets has become much quieter than in years past, large-scale waterfront development and plans to cap I-95 with a new park at Penn's Landing offer signs of life in the not-too-distant future.