Billionaire planning contemporary art museum in Fishtown warehouse

A series of Frankford Avenue warehouses are slated to become a permanent home for the West Collection, a 3,100-piece cache of contemporary art assembled by billionaire Alfred P West, Jr. and his daughter, Angela Paige West.

A construction permit pulled by a company called “Frankford Investment LLC” on Tuesday detailed plans for the building of a five-story addition to a property at 1115-27 Frankford Avenue near Girard Avenue in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood.

The permit also calls for the creation of several floors of “libraries and cultural exhibits,” as well as office space. In a 2017 deed addendum tied to the Frankford Avenue properties, Paige West listed herself as the managing partner of Frankford Investment LLC. She did not immediately return a request for comment.

West Collection is well known for supporting emerging local artists. But it also holds notable works by internationally recognized contemporary artists including minimalist Donald Judd, visual artist Julian Opie and Brazilian artist/photographer Vik Muniz.

Roland Kassis, who sold the properties to Frankford Investment in 2017 for $2.87 million, referred questions to Lee Stoetzel, who has served as Director of the West Collection for the past 17 years. Stoetzel said in an email that the collection isn't yet prepared to talk about its plans for the site.

    • The industrial buildings at 1115-27 Frankford Avenue will become a cultural and art center, according to permits filed with the city.
      The industrial buildings at 1115-27 Frankford Avenue will become a cultural and art center, according to permits filed with the city.

Ian Wilson is the zoning chair for the Fishtown Neighbors Association. He said that group has talked informally with the collection's director about plans to make  Fishtown home.

“I know it was supposed to become the permanent home of the West Collection,” he said, referring to the Frankford Avenue properties.

Wilson said that the West Collection is also in the process of staging a temporary art installation at a nearby I-95 overpass near the Frankford Avenue properties. Stoetzel is active with other neighborhood groups including Fishtown Co., a local business association.

The West Collection is currently split between a series of exhibition spaces, including the Kimmel Center, and the Montgomery County headquarters of West’s company, SEI Investments.

SEI, a financial services firm, controls some $809 billion in various investments. In 2007, Forbes estimated West’s net worth at $1.4 billion.

A relative at the West’s Paoli residence referred questions about the project back to Paige West.

The proposed location for the museum sits just steps away from a bustling nightlife center in one of the nation’s fastest gentrifying neighborhoods. A century ago, these buildings once housed both the Otis and the Morse Elevator Works and were recommended for historic protection in 2016.

An agreement with the Fishtown Neighborhood Association requires all property owners to preserve the building’s facade.

About the author

Ryan Briggs, Data Reporter

Ryan Briggs is WHYY's data reporter.  He works on the PlanPhilly team and across the WHYY newsroom on investigative features. Before joining WHYY, he covered politics, criminal justice and government policy since 2011. He has worked as a staff reporter for Next City, the Philadelphia City Paper, and City & State PA, while contributing stories to a variety of other news outlets as a freelancer, including WHYY.

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    Photo Credit: Kimmel Center

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