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September 04, 2016

New zoning permit again presents existential threat to Little Pete's

Momentum returns for proposed hotel project to replace famous Center City diner

Restaurants Diners
Little Pete's Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Little Pete's diner, opened three decades ago, will likely be demolished to make way for a Hudson Hotel, which will have a rooftop restaurant and two retail spaces.

All Philadelphians want is to be able to go to their favorite 24-hour diner without worry of another grave reminder of its precarious hold on the future. That's too much to ask.

Little Pete's, the old-fashioned diner that has stood strong at 17th and Chancellor Streets for 37 years, could again be jeopardized by a new zoning notice pertaining to the proposed Hyatt Centric hotel project, whose timeline has intermittently advanced and receded.

On and off since 2014, shifting hotel proposals (all led by New York-based developer Hudson Hotels) have called for the imminent demolition of Little Pete's and a neighboring parking garage. Last February, the Center City Residents' Association finally gave its reluctant blessing to the 12-story, 300 + room  Hudson project, and Little Pete's was expected to vacate the property by February of this year.

That didn't end up happening. Around this time last year, co-owners and brothers John and Pete Koutroubas proclaimed after a project meeting that the later-proposed Hyatt Centric simply wasn't ready to be built and therefore the diner would remain open for the foreseeable future.

The appearance of last week's zoning notice suggests the project is back in go-mode. According to Eater Philly, the development team is simply awaiting final approval. John Koutroubas said he now expects to be out of the property by June or July of next year, but that an official move-out should be known by October.

In March 2015, PhillyVoice's Brandon Baker argued that Little Pete's, while indisputably a Philadelphia hallmark, is a necessary casualty of progress. Not only will a hotel bring the city jobs, but Little Pete's already has a second location in Fairmount at 2401 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Look, zoning-speak is not sexy. It weighs down casual conversations. But, fact is, the block's outdated zoning makes it the odd one out in its vicinity, where it is surrounded by CMX-5 zones (fancy talk for blocks with tall buildings) and host to a parking garage that's only congested the block, according to the Econsult [impact analysis] report.

The sexiness of 3 a.m. scrapple and Reubens, of course, only weighs down the gut and the heart. But the good news is the Koutroubas brothers have stated their intention to remain in the vicinity and had been scouting locations late last year when it appeared certain they would soon have to move.

Yet another hotel in Center City appears to be inevitable. Our recent string of events — World Meeting of Families, DNC and now two upcoming NFL Drafts — seems to suggest the demand for accommodations isn't an exaggeration, either. We can only hope the diner's character will remain intact wherever it goes, and since that lives with the Koutroubas brothers and their faithful staff, there's plenty of reason for optimism.