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January 20, 2022

Philly begins process examining redevelopment future of the Roundhouse, seeks public input

The city's police department will relocate to its new headquarters in the coming months, vacating a building it has called home for almost 60 years

Development Buildings
Philadelphia police headquarters Roundhouse Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The Roundhouse has been home to the Philadelphia Police Department headquarters since 1963.

The Philadelphia Police Department will make its long-awaited relocation later this year to its new Center City headquarters at 400 N. Broad St., the building that was once home to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But the police department's move in the coming months begs the question of what is to become of its current home at the Roundhouse on Seventh and Race streets. The property has served as the Police Administration Building since 1963.

With its future now up in the air, Philadelphia has begun a year-long initiative that will examine how best to redevelop and adapt the modernist structure.

The city issued a request for proposals Wednesday to lead a community engagement process that will help identify the best path forward for the Roundhouse. The process is being overseen by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, in addition to other city agencies.

The team selected to lead the public feedback process will be tasked with soliciting input from residents citywide on how best to redevelop the site. The community engagement process is expected to begin this May and continue through October, with a final report detailing the public's recommendations to be delivered by the end of the year.

The goal of the process will be to create a vision plan that combines the community's desires for how the property should be used, with the revenue potential that an economic development project could bring to Philly as it continues to financially recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, city officials said.

The city is hopeful that the redevelopment of the Roundhouse will help address the building's complex history. While architects and preservationists revel at the building's modernist style, many see the Roundhouse as a symbol of police brutality and urban development that displaced residents from their homes.

“The Roundhouse is a complicated site,” Philadelphia City Planning Commission Executive Director Eleanor Sharpe said. “To many people it represents an era of police brutality. For some that era continues to this day. At the same time, it is an iconic piece of architecture. It sits on a large and valuable parcel. It is an opportunity to secure revenue to support education, social services, public safety and other critical needs.”

“This site has meaning to Philadelphians of all races, ethnicities, ages, gender, sexual orientations, gender identities and incomes,” Sharpe continued. “It means different things to different people. We want to hear from everyone.”

The Roundhouse was designed by a local architecture firm called Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham in 1959. The building was then dedicated in 1963 and became the home of the city's police department for almost six decades.

The building is notable for its undulating, curvilinear design that consists of concrete panels and three floors situated above a concrete podium. The structure is almost entirely precast concrete panels or cast-in-place concrete. These design features, however, could make redevelopment challenging, city officials said.

Reports in recent years have detailed the Roundhouse being in poor condition — from broken toilets to fleas and cockroaches. Preservationists have called for the structure to be maintained as an architectural landmark and studied for potential reuses.

The deadline for request for proposal submissions is March 14.

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