Sunday, August 9, 2015

Philadelphia's Mt. Sinai Hospital

Some have called it the Divine Lorraine of South Philadelphia. Pennsport's Mt. Sinai Hospital closed its doors in 1997, and for the past 18 years, developers and neighbors have been bickering over what to do with it, the unfortunate consensus being that it be demolished for modestly scaled row-homes.

Truth be told, Mt. Sinai does seem out of place. Surrounded by typical South Philadephia row-homes and some less-than-steller infill to its south, Mt. Sinai stands out atop the South Philadelphia skyline giving it, well, a skyline.

For more than 90 years, Mt. Sinai was South Philadelphia's hospital, and for 90 years the neighborhood surrounding it changed very little. It's hard to imagine emergency vehicles, visitors, and the sheer number of employees it staffed getting in and out of the facility. It's equally baffling that the surrounding neighborhood didn't evolve to account for the hospital's traffic, both on feet and tires. 

While other hospitals are surrounded by chain restaurants, convenience stores, and retail amenities, the mammoth Mt. Sinai is surrounded by an unaffected South Philadelphia. For that reason, it makes perfect sense that neighbors would just like to see it gone.

But their reasoning is not so rational, and like most South Philadelphia hissy fits, it's squarely centered on parking. 

The most recent proposal would call for its demolition, and that it be replaced with 95 townhouses. While the community did suggest that current plans were unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists, there seemed to be no understanding of how the plan's 134 parking spaces would impact the site's experience for those without cars. 

In fact, if the discussion on PlanPhilly is any indication, it would seem that community members actually view the site's abundance of allocated parking as a boon for pedestrianization, as if 134 cars will be sitting idle and collecting dust.

Let's be honest. South Philadelphia's traffic and parking is a pitiful situation, one not helped by underwhelming access to rail and a general sense of entitlement amongst longtime residents. In addition to the illogical assumption that 134 parking spaces can be bucketed with pedestrians and cyclists, nothing is getting built in South Philadelphia without parking until the area's mentality gets an upgrade.

But that is exactly where Mt. Sinai could shine. As an existing building, it could be converted into condos or apartments without allocated parking. I'm sure Brown Hill wants to make as much money as possible from the site, and tacking on parking adds a huge chunk of change But what profit would be lost from lack of parking would be made up from a lack of demolition and new construction costs. 

Plus, apartment buildings, even condos, bring a different type of tenant. Row-homes attract two-car families, but apartments attract single residents, empty-nesters, and millennials, many of which use public transportation and don't have cars. If Brown Hill did want to provide parking for the hospital's conversion, its 80s-era addition could be demolished for a lot or garage, offering up the most profitable scenario of all: renovation in lieu of new construction, higher density, and less demolition. Not to mention, a beleaguered landmark would be salvaged.  


  1. Wes, I'm confused by your reference to "Cecil Baker's plans." I believe his only involvement is as a member of the Civic Design Review Board.

    1. Thanks, Jayfar. I must have misread the article.