Fishtown residents voted 57 to 38 against endorsing a live music venue proposed for 2055 Richmond Street.
Developer David Grasso, president of Grasso holdings, told the crowd gathered at First Presbyterian that Philly's live music scene has shifted toward Delaware Avenue, and his proposed venue would capitalize on that. He promised there would be no DJ-only nights, and that concerts would almost all end by 11 p.m. Drinking would be confined to one area, he said. And all parking would be next door or on an adjacent site.
Grasso describes his plan
But while some attendees noted that Grasso's latest plan responded to earlier expressed concerns from the surrounding neighborhoods, most who addressed the Fishtown Neighbors Association Zoning Committee said they feared the place would bring back the same public inebriation and other problems they dealt with when nightclubs lined Delaware Avenue.
There is a zoning overlay in place that prevents night clubs from operating in the area. First District Councilman Frank DiCicco was instrumental in getting that piece of legislation passed. It is also DiCicco who early this summer proposed legislation that would exempt the Richmond Street property from the overlay.
Even so, "This is not a nightclub," DiCicco told the crowd. Grasso said he thought of it more as a theater - and in fact, he hoped to host theatrical productions and musical theater numbers in addition to concerts from every genre and for every age group.
More from Grasso; resident Q&A
But several times when Grasso spoke of the project, he called it a club. And the audience called him on it.
Fishtown resident Nancy Martino was one of them. "What will make this project different from a nightclub?" she asked. Grasso said that "night club" means different things to different people. He asked Martino to specify what she was worried about.
The crowd's specific worries included what people who went to see a show at Grasso's place would do in their neighborhood before or afterward.
They told stories from the old days of people urinating in their yards and having sex on their parked cars.
Grasso said he was not responsible for what people did off of his property. “That's exactly what we're worried about!” someone shouted from the back. Grasso then amended his statement. Of course, he said, if someone got drunk at a show, and then left and did damage, he would be partially responsible. DiCicco chimed in that people are going to drink before going to any club, or to a sports event, or anything at all if they want to, and nobody can stop them.
Councilman Frank DiCicco thinks its a good idea
Grasso said he hopes a local restaurant will be cooking the food at his place. He said he hopes to create a venue that people would want to hang out at after shows ended, then trickle out afterward so the roads and neighborhoods aren't overwhelmed.
In addition to his development work, Grasso owns a music company, FOF Entertainment Group, that has a relationship with record label EMI. He said he will invest heavily in a top-of-the-line sound system and other technology that will entice top acts to come play. This includes a video production room on site so that live content could be created and streamed from the website. At some point in the future, he could even imagine selling live music recordings, packaged with merchandising.
Based on feedback received at an earlier community meeting in Port Richmond, he said he would make sure all necessary parking was on site or near it. He is in talks to buy a neighboring property to be used for parking, he said, but he could not say what it was because there is a business on it now, and the employees do not know that their boss may close shop.
Grasso plans to keep most of the existing building and re-use it. In the future, he said, he wants to build a restaurant with a smaller venue in it on the same site, closer to the street.
DiCicco, who has also been a driving force behind the on-going Master Plan for the Central Delaware, said he thinks the club fits nicely into that vision for the waterfront. One resident wanted to know why, then, the proposal couldn't wait until the Master Plan is finished early next year. He said it felt to him like the zoning change was being rushed through. DiCicco denied this, saying there is no way city council will even have a public hearing on the zoning proposal until October.
Another Fishtown resident, Julian Hinson, praised the project. "I think it's a great thing," Hinson said. "There is nothing going on in this part of the city. There is crime back there now."
Letters will be sent to the Planning Commission and City Council reflecting the vote. But after the results were announced to the room, DiCicco said he wanted to work with Grasso to come up with an amended ordinance to include conditions that might make the proposal more amenable to more Fishtowners.
A clearly disappointed Grasso said he was open to that. Otherwise, he wasn't sure what would happen next, he said, but he is not giving up on the project.
See the beginning of the meeting, with intro from FNA leaders, an explanation of current zoning and how the proposal would change it by city planner David Fecteau, and a discussion of the Central Delaware Master Plan by Master Plan Manager Sarah Thorp:
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