Down by the river: Hotels mulled for foot of Righters Ferry Road

The former Pencoyd Iron Works building that now houses Penn Real Estate Company. Photo Richard Ilgenfritz

Down by the river: Hotels mulled for foot of Righters Ferry Road

By Richard Ilgenfritz
@rpilgenfritz on Twitter  –  Jul 26, 2016    

Bala Cynwyd >> Unless you frequent the Aquatics Fitness Center at the end of Righters Ferry Road in Bala Cynwyd, there isn’t much reason for the general public to go to this out-of-the-way corner of Lower Merion Township.

But with a major condominium complex being built on a former industrial site along one side of Righters Ferry Road and a new project that is beginning to work its way through the Lower Merion approval process, many people could soon be drawn to this area of the township.

Although the plans are still in the works, a developer is looking to construct two hotels on the property of a soon-to-be demolished industrial building.

Fred Fromhold, the attorney representing the site’s owner, Penn Real Estate Group, said the property is part of a tract which starts with the historic Pencoyd Iron Works building to the west and the Aquatics and Fitness Center to the east. Between those buildings sits a couple of post-World War II buildings that would be demolished.

“There is a proposal that we have … that we combine these properties … continue to preserve the historic building where Penn Real Estate’s business offices are located and there would be two new hotels that are contemplated on the adjoining property,” Fromhold told members of the Lower Merion Historic Commission at a recent meeting. The fitness club will remain on the site and still has a long-term lease, he said. According to Fromhold, under the township’s subdivision and land development code the development should be sensitive to the historic nature of the site.

“We believe that this project very much accomplishes that,” Fromhold said.

He then turned the presentation to Leila Hamroun, principal of Past Forward Architecture. Hamroun said the area’s industrial history was extensively researched in 2006.

“Although this project does not impact the [historic] resource itself, it is respectful of the environment,” Hamroun said. “Now the studies from 2006 show although there’s this connection with the history a lot of the industrial buildings that had been there in the 19th century and early 20th century are no longer there.” She said the two buildings proposed to be demolished are deemed to be post-World War II manufacturing structures that were not considered important.

“No work is going to be done on the historic resource itself,” Hamroun said. “But the project is going to impact the setting of the resource.”

According to Hamroun, most of the new development has had little connection to the industrial past of the area. The objective in designing the new structures on the site will be to tell the story of the industrial past, she said.

“Here the intent is to have a physical reminder of what that past was,” Hamroun said.

Large steel structures that sit behind the to-be-demolished industrial buildings would remain and incorporated into the design of the hotel area, said Hamroun of the proposal. Also, in one of the buildings, developers plan to remove the outer “skin” of the industrial buildings and keep the steel foundation beneath it which would be incorporated into the design, creating what she described as a three-dimensional memory for a courtyard.

Another aspect of the overall plans for the area is for a public space.

“We really want to create a pedestrian square right in front of our office,” said Stephen Gibson of Penn Realty. This space would then connect to the cafe they are planning. “We hope to bring activity to that location, especially with the trail users and trail access,” Gibson said of a plan to link to the Cynwyd Heritage Trail.

Fromhold said the plans likely won’t go to the township’s Planning Commission until at least September or October. The next step is for the application to go before the Lower Merion Zoning and Hearing Board. That meeting is scheduled for July 28 at 7:15 p.m. at the Lower Merion Township Building.