• Ryan Higgins

An Optimistic Plan to Revitalize the Economy of South Philly

A real estate investment group called Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP) recently purchased a massive parcel of land in southwest Philadelphia. That parcel is more commonly known to people in the area as the PES Refinery. Another thing people in the area are familiar with is the massive eyesore that the refinery creates. After a catastrophic explosion and subsequent fire caused by a corroded fuel line, the refinery has been in-operational since 2019. At the time of its demise, it was operational for 150 years and employed 1,000 people.. If the promising future for the area comes to fruition, the number of jobs will increase 30 fold.

HRP has big plans for this damaged and abandoned piece of supremely positioned real estate. The group spent $225 million dollars intending to turn the 1,300-acre land into an environmentally friendly multi-purpose economic hub. This revitalized portion of Philadelphia would be known as the Bellwether District. 98 percent of materials currently on-site are being repurposed in the construction of the new site. The Bellwether district would act as an intersection of technology, sustainability, and commerce for all of Philadelphia. This area would reign in 30,000 new jobs and a trickle down of economic boom throughout the area. While promising, the full benefits of the district are a long ways away. Demolition of the refinery alone is slated to take four years. On site, there is 950 miles of pipeline that needs to be removed; that is the distance from Florida to Philly.

The property on it’s north end touches I-76 and I-95 on its south end. A lot situated like this is considered prime industrial and commercial real estate. Not only is the area interstate connected, but it is also right on the Schuylkill River and attached to the southern rail yard. Goals for this space are lofty, especially when taking into consideration what the land used to be and what it has been through. 150 years of oil refining, crude oil has certainly done a number on the soil. Not only is the soil deeply contaminated, but the site has also had chronic issues of flooding. Stakeholders in the project potentially have a solution for both of these issues known as a strategic soil management plan. Four million cubic yards of soil will be brought into the area, raising the plain from five to eight feet.

The glaring issue with the Bellwether District is the land that it is situated on. Not the location, but the physical soil itself. Soil with this level of pollution can be harmful to those who are merely near it. Vapors are released from the soil over time and it is even more dangerous to deal with when coming in direct contact. The lasting effects are that the contaminants from the soil can seep into groundwater causing disease. One technique to clean contaminated soil is known as ‘soil washing.’ This process can be done with and without the presence of chemicals. The physical ‘washing’ is done with large advanced machines that have one or more intakes and outputs for dirty and clean soil respectively. The Bellwether District would take up an area of 1,300 acres and this technology is not suited for that type of volume. The HRP’s plan for reinvigorating this land is not published on their website or in any plan. With this particular issue being such an obvious and glaring concern with the project as a whole, coupled with the fact that it has not been addressed, should be a subject of concern.

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