Oct 26, 2021 - Real Estate
Developer takes on rebrand and cleanup at South Philly PES refinery
An architectural rending of The Bellwether District. Photo courtesy of Hilco Redevelopment Partners.
An architectural rending of The Bellwether District. Photo courtesy of Hilco Redevelopment Partners

The Bellwether District sounds nothing like Philadelphia Energy Solutions — and that's likely on purpose. The name is the latest change to the refinery complex.

Driving the news: Chicago-based real estate developer Hilco Redevelopment Partners unveiled its vision Monday for repurposing the site of the shuttered refinery in South Philadelphia.

Why it matters: HRP is undergoing a massive, years-long environmental cleanup at the site to make the project a reality. It's expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the company told Axios.

  • The project will create 19,000 jobs over the next 15 years, HRP said.

Details: The 1,300-acre Bellwether District will serve as a commercial hub for Philadelphia, according to HRP, with logistics operations moving goods and services from across the globe.

  • The plans also call for making four new city streets — two of which will be named after prominent Black Philadelphian historical figures: James Forden, a businessman and abolitionist, and Frances Harper, one of the first Black women to be published in the country.

Flashback: In June 2019, a massive explosion at the refinery — which was once the largest on the East Coast — prompted PES to file for bankruptcy.

  • The refinery, which operated for over 150 years, was the largest stationary contributor of air pollution in the city until it shuttered.
  • HRP bought the site for more than $225 million in June 2020 with an agreement to clean up the property.
  • Benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, continued to flow from the refinery, with recent reports from this past May. HRP said in June it has since removed on-site benzene and is monitoring levels, WHYY reported.

Between the lines: As part of its agreement, HRP is responsible for contamination clean-up from September 2012 onward.

  • The company is currently working on removing oil in the subsurface of the ground and conducting soil and groundwater analysis, Julianna Connolly, the executive vice president of environmental remediation, said.
  • Once HRP completes its demolition of the refinery, the goal is to identify and remove or recycle contaminated soil. The group also intends to level the soil on the site to elevate it above flood levels.
  • Still, most soil at the site will be encased under buildings, roadways and parking lots.

Of note: HRP said it'll likely continue to recover petroleum after development is complete.

  • That will be worked into the design and will happen primarily underground.

What's next: HRP CEO Robert Perez told Axios the company hopes to sign its first tenants next year and open in some capacity by 2023.

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