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Grasso Holdings Developing a 268 room Intercontinental Hotel
 in Philadelphia's Franklintown
By Tom Belden, The Philadelphia InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Apr. 14, 2008 - More than three decades after it was first envisioned, the Franklintown development straddling Vine Street is getting a centerpiece: an Intercontinental Hotel sharing space with national retailers, apartments and condominiums.

The site, on the north side of Vine between 16th and 17th Streets, will include a Whole Foods supermarket and a Best Buy consumer-electronics store, in addition to the 268-room hotel, said David Grasso, chief executive officer of Grasso Holdings, the project's developer, in an interview last week.

The $320 million project, to be named The Vine, is scheduled for completion in the second half of 2010, Grasso said.

The 40-story luxury hotel, with apartments and a handful of condos on its upper floors, will be the region's first for the Intercontinental chain, a division of Atlanta-based Intercontinental Hotel Group that is better-known abroad than in this country. The company also is the parent of Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotels and operates lodgings with more than 4,000 rooms worldwide.

The site now is a surface parking lot and is one of the last gaps in the master plan for Franklintown, an area from Vine to Spring Garden Street zoned in the 1970s for a mix of hotels, office towers, residences and retail stores. Early in its history, a two-way street, Franklintown Boulevard, was created to connect southbound 17th to northbound 18th between Vine and Callowhill Streets.

The development started with construction of Franklin Plaza on the south side of Vine between 16th and 17th, where GlaxoSmithKline's U.S. headquarters and the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel are situated. Franklintown also has high-rise apartment buildings, seniors housing, and townhouses built in earlier phases.

Grasso said the hotel-apartment tower, with a curving glass facade, to be located at the Franklintown Boulevard and Vine corner, will create "a glowing box at night." And while the high-rise may be the most visible part of The Vine, the retail stores are "the most valuable part of the whole deal," he said.

When combined with the hotel and residences, the supermarket and other stores give the project "critical mass, making it a destination," he said. "They all help each other. . . . When you put all these components together, they enhance the desirability of the residential portion, the retail and the hotel because it increases the activity around it."

The hotel will have 18,000 square feet of meeting space to appeal to business groups, an upscale restaurant that may stay open 24 hours a day, and a full-service spa, Grasso said. The hotel also will be the only one in the city "with four fixtures in every bathroom," including European-style bidets, he said.

Financing for the project is in place, Grasso said, and will come from his company; Grosvenor Investment Management, a pension-fund adviser; and Societe Generale, the French bank.

Plans for the 60,000-square-foot Whole Foods supermarket, which will replace the chain's 16,000-square-foot store at 20th and Callowhill Streets, were announced 18 months ago. The new store will be what the natural-and-organic-food retailer, based in Austin, Texas, calls its "next generation," with a far greater selection of products and several dining areas, company officials said.

Hotel consultants and tourism officials say the Intercontinental will help the city accommodate larger gatherings at an expanded Convention Center and will draw more visitors from overseas.

"It's going to bring that whole area alive," said Jack Ferguson, executive vice president of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The Intercontinental flag gives us another leap into having more international business coming in, because the brand is known worldwide."

Peter R. Tyson, vice president of PKF Consulting, in Philadelphia, said the hotel would be close enough to Market Street's office buildings to appeal to business travelers. He said he didn't expect the Intercontinental to dampen other developers' plans to build a half dozen or so hotels in Center City to take advantage of the larger Convention Center.

"This was always on everybody"s slate," Tyson said. "It was just a matter of when."

Contact staff writer Tom Belden at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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