After a fire broke out on the 9th floor of the infamous Spruce Parker Hotel at 13th and Spruce last year, many locals cheered. But the revelry was premature, and what we've been left with is a vacant eyesore on a prime corner of Center City. Perhaps worse, a longtime popular restaurant and bar, the Westbury, closed with it.
Since then there's been little speculation.
The Wankawala Organization has been working with the building's owners to purchase the property since November. Wankawala's managing director finally spoke out to Philadelphia Magazine on a plan to convert the building into a moderately upscale hotel.
Despite Wankawala's optimism and their portfolio of corporate hotels, Councilman Mark Squilla remains apprehensive. His concerns are just. Wankawala has been leasing the Parker for the past four years, years that are marred by the hotel's troublesome reputation. The point being, if Wankawala wanted to cash in on the hotel's potential, why now? And if Wankawala simply wants to reopen the hotel, why not simply reopen it as it was? And what it was, at best, was a hostel.
But there are other reasons Wankawala may be interested in finally maximizing the property's potential, even purchasing it. The city's Gayborhood is rapidly evolving. With new mixed use development transforming the East Chestnut Corridor and Midtown Village's 13th Street Strip expanding south, 13th and Spruce will inevitably become too valuable to remain vacant.
That in itself may not sit too easy with longtime residents and patrons of the Gayborhood. While this corner was once riddled with prostitutes and homeless people (often two-in-one living at the Parker), it was also the heart of the city's thriving LGBT community, and the Westbury was its Cheers.
Seedy strip clubs have been replaced with daycare centers and local business relocated for fast food burritos, and some aren't thrilled with the change. Revitalizing the Spruce Parker Hotel is a necessity, but how it's reborn is an important part of what this neighborhood is about to become. Will a new boutique hotel be an asset to the city's still-relevant Gayborhood, or will it be a part of the area's continued gentrification?