Conversion of the Avenue of the Arts building well underway

The upper floors of the Avenue of the Arts building on South Broad Street have been gutted, stripped and laid bare.

Its current state has exposed not only each floor’s expansive window line, but also an original spiral staircase that winds through the structure — built in the 1890s as an office building — from floors four through 17.

Hidden for decades, the marble staircase has a decorative iron railing and will become akin to a piece of artwork behind a glass wall once MRP Residential is done with it. While structurally sound, it’s not to be used for the masses but will be on view.

MRP Residential is deep into a total redevelopment of the Avenue of the Arts building, a property it bought a year ago for $33 million with an eye toward converting it into 217 high-end apartments and planting its first stake outside of its Washington D.C. base.

The company’s attraction to the city is buoyed by several factors including: Center City’s population growth and growing Millennial contingent; its cluster of higher educational and medical institutions; the region’s pharmaceutical companies; and its aging apartment stock. Upwards of 70 percent of the city’s multifamily units were constructed 25 years ago, according to MRP, and for the developer, that means there’s plenty of room to bring brand new multifamily units to the market and demand will absorb it.

All told, this has made Philadelphia the next frontier for MRP Residential to conquer. It also doesn’t hurt that Charley McGrath, senior vice president of MRP and his colleague, Michael Cassidy, vice president, are Philly born and bred. McGrath is from Delaware County and Cassidy is from Montgomery County.

McGrath anticipates the Avenue of the Arts conversion will be the first of many acquisitions and ground-up developments the company will do in the city and around the region. Aside from multifamily, it will look at office, retail and industrial projects.

MRP’s Avenue of the Arts project looks to capture the luxury renter who sees Broad and Chestnut streets the same way McGrath does. To him, it’s the “center of the universe” in Center City.

The space it is gutting consists of floors 4 through 17 totaling 209,095 square feet of the entire 283,126-square-foot building. For years, it had been used as student housing by the Art Institute of Philadelphia. The retail portion of the building where Capital Grille and Olive Garden occupy space is not owned by MRP.

The fourth floor is where residents will access their apartments as well as where amenities, such as a business center and workout facility, will be housed. MRP is adding an 18th floor to the structure and where a rooftop deck will go.

McGrath declined to disclose how much the company is spending on the project but if the $4 million it is spending on the roof deck is any indication, it’s a decent amount. The company is also seeking to get well into the $3 a square foot for rent.

Most of the work is expected to be completed by mid-December and totally done by March 2016.

Deidre DeAscanis and Jerry Roller of JKR Partners designed the project. For a look at how the interior of the building will appear when completed, check out the gallery of renderings.