Fishtown music venue could lose the zoning it needs to open on Richmond Street

    • The proposed music venue, as of last fall
      The proposed music venue, as of last fall

The controversial 7,600 square-foot, 3,000-patron music venue developer David Grasso hopes to build on Richmond Street in Fishtown appears to be in jeopardy.

First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, who sponsored the adopted zoning ordinance that allows dance halls and night clubs to operate at the site, introduced new legislation to repeal his own bill. And Tuesday, the Rules Committee gave its approval to that bill, which would return the zoning from L-4 Limited Industrial to G-2 General Industrial, thereby making Grasso's dream impossible.

The hearing and vote
DiCicco, who will leave office at the end of the year, still believes in Grasso's music venue dream. But he believes Grasso is having some financial issues, he said. If the project falls through, DiCicco worries another developer would open a venue that would be harmful to the community. DiCicco has consistently disagreed with neighborhood organizations that say this one would be – he sees Grasso's venue as bringing new life and light to a now dark, unpleasant place.

DiCicco said Tuesday he won't call the bill up for a final vote before full council right away. He is giving Grasso until the end of this year's council session. If Grasso shows him that he either has financing and contractual agreements with operators in place, or is close to it, he will let the bill die.

“He needs to be closer, and I have to have some comfort level,” DiCicco said.

The passed zoning ordinance, and the pending bill that would revoke it, deal with all land between Richmond Street, Cumberland Street, Beach  Street, and Schirra Drive .

DiCicco discusses his reasoning and possible future actions.
Grasso failed to close on the parcel at 2055 Richmond Street, which is one of three that were part of his plan for the music venue. That's the address that used to be given for the venue, which Grasso has said would be operated by Live Nation and be  “the premier location to see live music in the city.”

The 2055 Richmond parcel, consisting of a 76,000-square foot building and the surrounding land, has been purchased by another buyer.

That buyer, Columbus Boulevard Associates, opposed the zoning change from G-2 to L-4, saying the proposed use would harm the 40-plus acres they own nearby and soak up the surrounding street parking a future development might depend on.

Columbus now opposes the zoning bill that would revert the parcel back to G-2.

“So you were against it before you were for it?” asked Councilman-at-Large James Kinney, the committee chair.

Columbus Boulevard Associates Attorney Neil Sklaroff told the committee that before purchasing the parcel, his client consulted with a real estate appraiser who said the new classification added a lot of value. They do not want to lose that value, he said. “The Rules Committee and City Council should be aware that there is no planning principle upon which zoning and un-zoning a few parcels within five months can be justified,” Sklaroff said. “Whether this is ultimately called spot zoning or special zoning, passing this bill just cannot be reconciled with good government.”

Sklaroff on why his client opposes the bill.
Sklaroff said his client was not interested in the dance hall provision, and would be satisfied if the new zoning stayed, with that use stripped out. The L-4 zone has other uses that G-4 doesn't, including retail and wholesale uses, and those are the things his client wants to retain, he said.

DiCicco said that Grasso can build a music venue without the 2055 Richmond parcel. “Two weeks ago, he showed me a plan that says he could move forward,” DiCicco said after the meeting. “Assuming all the finance pieces come together, it's a project that he believes is doable” with the two parcels he controls.

DiCicco said he considering an amendment to his bill to repeal that would leave the L-4 zoning in place with the uses Columbus Boulevard Associates wants, but without “dance halls and other things of concern to the community.”

Grasso, president of Grasso holdings, has promised residents that the venue would have no DJ-only nights, and that concerts would almost all end by 11 p.m. Drinking would be confined to one area.

Still, many neighborhood residents don't want it. Community organizations from Fishtown, New Kensington and Olde Richmond opposed the zoning change the first time around. Tom Potts of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation said Tuesday that his organization's position hasn't changed – they still oppose Grasso's project.

“We didn't want the music venue here in the first place, and we are still of that mind,” he said. “We are for (the legislation) being revoked, and for the zoning to go back to L2.”

Neither Grasso nor his attorney,  Ronald Patterson, returned calls for comment. Spotted at a Planning Commission meeting, Patterson said he had no information about the latest happenings, but had forwarded the request made of him to Grasso.

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About the author

Kellie Patrick Gates, Waterfront, casinos, planning reporter

Kellie Patrick Gates writes about planning, neighborhood development and the Central Delaware Waterfront. A journalist for more than two decades, she  worked for daily newspapers in Central Pennsylvania, Upstate New York and South Florida before coming to Philadelphia in 2003 to write for the Inquirer. Her work has appeared on PlanPhilly since 2007, and she also writes Love, the Inquirer's weekly wedding column. A native of Elk County, Pa., Kellie lives with her husband, Gary, and their dog and two cats.

Follow her on Twitter @KelliePGates

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