PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Frank Schaffer has worked on Jewelers’ Row for more than 25 years, and the past nine years, he’s operated his business, FGS Gems, from 708 Samson Street.
“I’m actually taking a large chip out of a diamond,” he explained from his workshop.
“How do you cut the hardest substance on earth? Well, with the same substance,” he continued as he worked to shape the diamond.
Schaffer says he’s worried his time at the country’s oldest jewelry district may be coming to an end.
“I’m very concerned. (When I heard the news) I was pretty much numb. I thought ‘Well, what’s now?’” recalled Schaffer.
Schaffer is referring to the news about a new luxury condominium project planned to take the space of his shop and the four buildings surrounding it. The real estate company Toll Brothers plans to build a 16 floor, 80 unit luxury condominium on the site of five buildings. A spokesperson there would not give exact details of the plans, but says the current structures will likely be demolished and a facade which mimics the current storefronts would be erected in their place.
“I think this would be a loss for the entire city,” said Paul Steinke, the executive director of Philadelphia’s Preservation Alliance.
Steinke says he still is waiting to see what Toll Brothers’ plans are for the building.
“If they come forward with plans that preserve the essence of these building as they are, meaning the bricks and sticks as they are, so the streetscape is not disturbed, that is one thing we would consider. On the other hand, if, as they have been indicating, we’re looking at complete demolition and then creating something that kind of looks like it’s there that would be a big problem,” he continued.
Mayor Jim Kenney is also weighing in on the controversy.
“We do recognize this is a problem. We’re working with Toll Brothers and with the community to try to keep the integrity of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors intact,” explained Kenney, while admitting there is not much the city can do since the buildings in question do not have historical designation.
Though many business owners in Jewelers’ Row say they do not want to see new condominium construction in the area, others say it could be great for the area. The owner of Panepinto Jewelers hangs a blue “Revitalize the Row” sign in his window. The building his business is in is one which could be destroyed. He says more residents living nearby could be good for the entire area.
If the current plans go through, the earliest the condominium would open would be early 2019.