By Paul Schwedelson – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal
Nov 1, 2023
Years after acquiring the former Budd Co. manufacturing campus in North Philadelphia, the once-bustling site previously home to 20,000 employees is sitting largely vacant, with hulking buildings gutted and waiting to be redeveloped.
New York-based Plymouth Group acquired the historic property at auction in 2019 and plans to convert the former auto body stamping hub into a 2.5 million-square-foot life sciences campus. The real estate developer is taking a wait-and-see approach to build out the space until leases are signed.
The first phase would involve three buildings totaling 475,000 square feet of redeveloped space. That includes the 235,000-square-foot Pioneer building with a 50-foot clear height at 3431 Fox St., the campus' 160,000-square-foot main building and the attached 80,000-square-foot annex.
Plymouth Group is in lease negotiations with six undisclosed potential tenants for a total of 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of future lab and manufacturing space at the renamed Budd Bioworks campus, said Colliers’ Joseph Fetterman, who is handling leasing for the project.
Most recently, Plymouth Group has focused on marketing the space to potential large-scale tenants and Big Pharma companies, Fetterman said, a result of the slowdown in funding for smaller life sciences companies.
While a glut of life sciences projects are being developed in Philadelphia, Fetterman said “there is no space coming online that looks like this space" due to the Budd site's capacity for manufacturing.
The first phase of the Budd Co. campus redevelopment is expected to cost upwards of $100 million, although more specifics and timelines will depend on leasing, Fetterman said.
The second phase of redevelopment would include the 525,000-square-foot Zephyr building, just north of the Pioneer building.
Another building on the campus is being eyed for residential as Plymouth Group has had exploratory conversations with residential developers but no plans have been made.
Four years ago, Plymouth Group bought five parcels totaling 25 acres of the former Budd Co. manufacturing complex for $6.5 million from Dean Cafiero, the founder of CarVision Mitsubishi dealerships in Montgomery County. Last year, Plymouth bought a neighboring 275,000-square-foot building, at 2450 W. Hunting Park Ave. for $15 million from Maryland’s Berman Enterprises. It was previously an administrative services building for Temple University. That rounded out the campus, bringing it to about 40 acres. Plymouth hopes to turn the building into an innovation center.
Budd Co. formally closed its Philadelphia business about two decades ago. Fetterman said Plymouth Group’s goal would be to have 5,000 employees at the site, a quarter of the number of employees at Budd's peak.
“If there was ever a monument to industry, this is it,” Fetterman said referring to the Pioneer building with its airy interior and 50-foot ceilings.
With the large spaces suitable for manufacturing, Fetterman said it's possible for a company to operate its labs and production at the same site. The previous manufacturing uses mean the buildings have ample electrical power capacity, Fetterman said.
In the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood, the property is also near both I-76 and Route 1 and has 1,700 parking spots.
“This is not conventional lab or office space,” Fetterman said. “It really enables a really creative and exciting workplace. I think companies look at the kind of space that they can create for their employees and are excited about it.”