LOWER MERION – Changes are coming to Bala Cynwyd, but it’ll take decades to complete.
It’s supposed to occur over 30 years, but major plans are in the works to renovate Lower Merion’s largest office complex in the hopes that it can compete with newer projects at places like the Navy Yard and King of Prussia.
This week the owners of Bala Plaza 1, 2 and 3 outlined their 30-year plan to renovate the three sites. The project will bring new office space, hundreds of apartments, a hotel, a park, and many other amenities to the area.
Sitting off City Avenue between Belmont Avenue and the Schuylkill Expressway, the three Bala Plaza properties are large office complexes surrounded mainly by a sea of asphalt.
Alfred Fuscaldo, the attorney representing the property owner, Tishman Speyer, outlined the plans during a community meeting this week that was facilitated by the township.
“This is a mixed-use project, combining retail, restaurant, hotel, office, multi-family residential uses as well as real and significant public amenities including over 500,000 square feet of green space and parkland,” Fuscaldo said in describing the project. “This project is on the edge of the community. It doesn’t penetrate into the environment, but it connects to it.”
The area along City Avenue was developed as an office park in the 1950s to coincide with the newly built Schuylkill Expressway. But by 2000 it had become dated as newer office parks were built throughout the region.
The three Bala Plaza sites include four buildings constructed between 1967 and 1982.
Under the current configuration, One and Two Bala Plaza occupies a 47-acre lot consisting of three office buildings. One Bala Plaza is a six-story building, and Three Bala Plaza includes two seven-story buildings. The Two Bala Plaza property is an 11-acre site with a 10-story office building along City Avenue.
Fuscaldo described the project as a porous village and not a gated community with numerous public amenities such as a park, a water feature, an amphitheater, and three miles of paths and trails.
“This application lays out the master plan for the phased-in development of one, two, and three Bala Plaza in the aggregate as an integrated whole over a potential 30-year time period,” Fuscaldo said.
The tentative sketch plan was approved in 2019, and the project slowed down last year due to the pandemic.
According to Fuscaldo, the preliminary plan filed in August is about the same that was approved in 2019.
Among the changes is that the internal loop road is now connected to the eastern end of the property at the fire marshal’s request, he said. Some parking that was to be near a 12-acre park on the site was moved to make room for additional green space.
Fuscaldo described the project as transformative that will enable City Avenue to compete with other regional business centers.
“It’s a unique opportunity and allows the township to position City Avenue as something different – something that competes with the Navy Yard, competes with King of Prussia competes with Conshohocken,” he said.
More detailed plans should be presented in December, when the Lower Merion Planning Commission is expected to review the project at its Dec. 6 meeting.
The building and planning committee will review the plans two days later, with the commissioners considering it at their December board meeting.
By RICHARD ILGENFRITZ firstname.lastname@example.org | Main Line Media News