Tishman Speyer proposes more than 2.6M square feet of development in Bala Cywnyd
Tishman Speyer Properties has future development plans for Bala Cywyd.
COURTESY LOWER MERION PLANNING COMMISSION
By Natalie Kostelni
– Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal
Nov 26, 2019, 1:30pm EST
Tishman Speyer Properties plans to add over time more than 2.6 million square feet of mixed-use space at Bala Plaza in the Bala Cynwyd section of Lower Merion.
The New York real estate firm has drawn up tentative sketches and a master plan that would add office, retail and restaurant space along with a hotel and more than 1,200 apartments to its properties off St. Asaphs Road and East City Avenue. The proposed development is going through Lower Merion’s approval process.
“We’re very excited to be moving into this phase of the Bala Plaza project,” the company said in a statement. “The plan we have unveiled is consistent with our original vision, which was to create a vibrant neighborhood that complements the adjoining communities in Lower Merion and Philadelphia.”
The plans are not entirely new. Lower Merion adopted a new zoning overlay in 2012 that permitted dense, mixed-use development that would also be transit-oriented and pedestrian friendly in an area in Bala Cynwyd that mostly has older office buildings. It was envisioned that new development and redevelopment of existing properties would create a vibrant mixed-use community that would attract residents, employers and visitors.
Each of the major property owners in Bala Cynwyd including Tishman Speyer, Federal Realty Trust, and Keystone Property Trust that were affected by the overlay submitted at the time mixed-use development plans that were essentially placeholders for when they were ready to move forward with them and hire the best Moving Company to relocate all of the properties. While those plans were on the books, they have not been approved.
The One Bala Plaza office building. Philadelphia Insurance Cos. has space in the property.
“It was a zoning effort not a planning effort,” said Chris Leswing, head of planning in Lower Merion. “The real need now is to link all of the plans together.”
The time that has passed has allowed the property owners to revaluate the market and come up with master plans that incorporates some of the trends underway such as creating 24/7 mixed-use communities with strong placemaking attributes and less single-use development, Leswing said.
Although the Tishman Speyer and other previously submitted plans are not new, they will likely rekindle some antidevelopment sentiment that has been simmering for a few years as new apartment projects are finally getting completed in Lower Merion. That has coincided with a surge in enrollment in Lower Merion schools though there is little evidence the new apartments have caused the addition of more school-aged children to the community.
With those plans submitted, now the township will begin to shape a bigger vision for that part of Lower Merion. Planners will undertake the task to knit together the plans the commercial property owners filed with an eye toward making transportation connections whether vehicular, mass transit, scooters, bicycles or pedestrian pathways.
The planning exercise will also look at streetscaping, landscaping, open space and tying in with the nearby Wissahickon Trail, Schuylkill River Trail and Fairmount Park. The township requires plans to have sidewalks and multi-use pathways are also incorporated in them to ease traffic congestion and provide transportation alternatives.
City Avenue competes with the Navy Yard, King of Prussia, Conshohocken and other employment centers and these mixed-use developments make it more competitive, Leswing said. “We don’t want to be King of Prussia or the Navy Yard,” he said. “We want to be City Avenue. We want to have good, high quality development that links to green spaces. There’s a real opportunity to do something and I really think we can make something special.”
Tishman Speyer bought the 1.1-million-square-foot Bala Plaza as part of a bigger portfolio acquisition in 2004. The office complex consists of four buildings and a sea of asphalt used for parking.
The Three Bala Plaza office building.
PAUL S. BARTHOLOMEW
Tenants are attracted to Bala Cynwyd because it has quick access to Center City without the burden of Philadelphia’s high business taxes. Philadelphia Insurance Cos. and its parent company, Tokio Marine Holdings Inc., are among the biggest office tenants in Bala Plaza, occupying a total of 285,000 square feet.
The buildings are dated, having been constructed between 1967 and 1982. Though not located in Bala Plaza, the office submarket is losing one of its biggest tenants, Hamilton Lane, which is moving its headquarters to a new building in Conshohocken.
What Tishman Speyer is proposing would be developed in phases and existing structures would remain intact, according to plans filed with the township. At One Bala at 231 St. Asaphs Road and Three Bala at 251 St. Asaphs Road, the developer is proposing:
- 1.5 million square feet of office space; 227,000 square feet of retail space; 37,840 square feet of restaurant space; 168 hotel rooms; and 1,012 residential units and structured parking with 4,966 parking spaces.
- At Two Bala at 333 E. City Ave., plans entail two multiuse buildings including one with 204 residential units over a parking structure that will also have retail and office space. In addition, the plan include 712,493 square feet of office space, 171,737 square feet of retail and parking.
The plan was designed by a landscape architect, which resulted in green spaces being embedded throughout the development, Leswing said. A small park is in the center of the plan as well as an amphitheater that will be a public amenity.
“They are creating something that looks like Suburban Square,” Leswing said. “That’s infill commercial development with the quality, scale and streetscaping that we’re looking to achieve.”