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August 29, 2023

Former Family Court building to become hotel, African American Museum to move to the Parkway

Developers have been chosen to lead the project, which will also expand the Free Library

Development Renovation
Philly Family Court Building Street View/Google Maps

Philadelphia's former Family Court building, shown above at 1801 Vine St., will be renovated into a hotel as part of a new development contract awarded by the city.

Two developers have been selected to lead the transformation of Philadelphia's former Family Court building into a new hotel on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Philadelphia-based National Real Estate Development and Washington, D.C.-based Frontier Development & Hospitality Group were named Wednesday as the firms that will renovate the historic building at 1801 Vine St. Another lot at 1901 Wood St., behind the Free Library of Philadelphia, will become the new home of the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

The Family Court building was built in 1941 and served the municipal court system until 2014, when the city relocated its functions to a new address at 1501 Arch St. The building, reminiscent of the palace architecture of La Place de la Concorde in Paris, has been unoccupied since 2017.

Plans for the building include a boutique hotel with a restaurant and bar and event spaces meant to liven up the entrance on Vine Street. The project also will include the expansion of the Free Library's Parkway Central building with the creation of the new Children and Family Center.

The soonest the hotel renovation and new buildings could be completed is 2028, officials with the city and the public-private Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. said Tuesday.

Last August, the city and PIDC narrowed down the field of proposals to four developers, who were required to include the new location for the AAMP as part of the bidding process. The museum is leaving its longtime home at 701 Arch St. to become part of the Parkway's "Museum Mile." Philadelphia was the first city in the U.S. to build a museum like the AAMP when it opened its doors during the city's bicentennial celebrations in 1976.

“This project stands as a testament to our commitment to honoring the past while building a future that reflects our values and aspirations," Mayor Jim Kenney said. "The African American Museum of Philadelphia's relocation to a brand new facility on the Parkway, the city’s most celebrated cultural thoroughfare, signifies a historic move that rightfully places it alongside Philadelphia’s most prestigious museums."

In 2020, the city withdrew the renovation contract it previously had awarded to Peebles Corp., a Black-owned development firm that also sought to turn the Family Court building into a hotel. That project was delayed for several years by cost considerations, including the developer's effort to obtain tax credits by gaining historic designation for the building. The city ultimately cited the uncertain outlook of the hotel industry during the pandemic as the reason for exiting its partnership with Peebles Corp.

National Real Estate Development and Frontier Development & Hospitality Group will partner with Method Co., Smith & Roller and BKP Development Group, giving the new project minority equity ownership as required by the city.

The 247,000-square-foot Family Court building was designed by Philadelphia architect John Torrey Windrim as a twin to the Free Library, which was completed in 1927. In addition to being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the exterior of the Family Court building and 37 New Deal-era murals painted inside are listed on the city's historic register.

The lot behind the Free Library covers about 88,000 square feet and was formerly owned by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The Free Library expansion was also a requirement of the lot's development.

National Real Estate Development has a growing portfolio of projects in Philadelphia, including the East Market mixed-use development that added more than 560 apartments to Center City in recent years. The company is currently building a multifamily residence at 2nd and Spring Garden streets and has other large developments in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Frontier Development & Hospitality Group has developed condos in Philadelphia and has extensive experience with hotel projects in other cities.

Various approvals, permits and negotiated terms between the city and the two developers still remain to be worked out before construction on the project can begin. City officials did not provide an estimated budget for the redevelopment and its separate pieces. 

The contract for the Family Court building comes against the backdrop of much larger plans to reimagine the Ben Franklin Parkway as a greener, more walkable stretch. The city is currently gathering public feedback about conceptual goals and amenities that could help bring new life to the Parkway.