Inky critic slams design of St. Rita’s plan for Broad and Ellsworth, suggests a great idea

Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron has blasted the proposed one-story design for the conflict-resolution center that St. Rita’s plans to build at Broad and Ellsworth.

Pic comes from South Broad Street Neighbors Association's Facebook page
Pic comes from South Broad Street Neighbors Association’s Facebook page

While praising the church’s intentions, Saffron, who just last week won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism, questions in her review Friday the use of such a small building and a surface parking lot on such a prominent corner. The school that had been on the plot was demolished earlier this year. (Incidentally, she gave a shout-out to the Passyunk Post.)

But she also proposed a great idea, which apparently has been discussed with city planners: partner with a developer for senior housing and include space for Cascia Center on the ground floor. Says the review:

There is a way, of course, for the parish to get what it needs to support the church without turning the block into a suburban strip.

The parish could partner with a developer to build a larger structure incorporating the conference center. St. Rita’s, which is still $1 million short, would get a subsidy for the project. A mixed-use building that included affordable or senior housing would even help cushion the area against the coming gentrification. A midrise apartment building is much more in the spirit of South Broad and would anchor both the corner and the community, now a melting pot of many ethnicities.

The shrine, which also serves as a parish.
The shrine, which also serves as a parish.

The review also has some interesting tidbits about the shrine itself. It apparently draws enough pilgrims who want to see the Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia — a 14th-century woman who Saffron dubs “the patron saint of what we would today call ‘conflict resolution’ ” — that the shrine holds two Masses a day, and three on Wednesdays.

The whole review is worth a read, touching on the reprehensible secrecy that some organizations have had in planning their buildings, so you can check it out here.

The bottom line, though, is that a better building may be coming out of this discussion. At a hearing April 9, the Zoning Board of Adjustment postponed ruling on the variance St. Rita’s needs to give more to see if a development partner can be found:

City planners have been trying to nudge St. Rita’s to consider such a collaboration. At their request, the Zoning Board postponed a decision on St. Rita’s variance. Chief planner Gary Jastrzab said he was working to match up St. Rita’s with potential partners and grants. Although Father Genito said the parish had so far failed to find a suitable developer, he would be open to cooperation.

Think of it this way: A collaborative project between St. Rita’s and a developer wouldn’t just resolve the disagreement over the site; it would build a conference center that was a living symbol of conflict resolution.

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