Neighbors wary about possible swingers club in Holmesburg

The city issued a building permit for the former Rosewood Caterers and paperwork indicates the owner — longtime pornography purveyor and property developer Tom Sherwood — intends to operate a catering hall there.

Man with a plan: Tom Sherwood said he is turning the Rosewood into a “charity catering hall” that will host fundraisers for Parkinson’s disease and veterans causes, as well as ballroom dancing events. Reached by telephone on Monday, he said he has no plans to use the Rosewood property for an adult-oriented nightclub. PHOTO: THE PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY / ANTHONY SMEDILE

The last time someone began to refurbish the former Rosewood Caterers in Upper Holmesburg, hundreds of neighbors showed up at an April 2016 community meeting to prevent the venue from becoming a swingers nightclub known as Saints and Sinners.

And the commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspection vowed the city would not issue a building permit for a sex-oriented business there.

But three weeks ago, the city issued a building permit for the former Rosewood at 8832 Frankford Ave., a location surrounded by a shopping center and homes. The paperwork indicates the owner, longtime pornography purveyor and property developer Tom Sherwood, intends to operate a catering hall there. But neighbors are still wary about the type of parties Sherwood plans to host.

“If the guy wants to open up a caterer, more power to him. But if he thinks he’s going to blow smoke up our butts, he’s got another thing coming,” Upper Holmesburg Civic Association President Stan Cywinski said. “Everybody’s going to keep a close eye on this.”

City Councilman Bobby Henon stated in a May 8 Facebook post that he is backing the neighbors in fighting the construction permit.

“My office is actively working with the community to appeal the issuance of the permit to Saints and Sinners. We will keep you posted on any updates,” Henon wrote.

The civic group plans to discuss the topic at its monthly meeting on May 18 at St. Dominic’s Marian Hall, 8532 Frankford Ave. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

Saints and Sinners is not affiliated with the “sex-positive community” that moved into the former Tacony Music Hall early this year.

L&I issued the building permit to Sherwood on April 25 “for interior alterations to existing catering hall to include new interior partitions, interior finishes, infill of exterior wall to match existing, as per approved plans.” The permit further states there is no change in the property’s legal classification as a catering hall.

L&I spokeswoman Karen Guss told the Northeast Times, “Recently they came in with plans that looked reasonably like a catering hall. And they asserted affirmatively that they are renovating a catering hall. Under the code, they are entitled to a permit.”

Reached by telephone on Monday, Sherwood said he has no plans to use the Rosewood property for an adult-oriented nightclub.

“It’s a dead issue,” he said. “The (swingers) group no longer wants to be there. They found a better venue that’s twice the size. They’re moving into a bigger, better location.”

Sherwood said he is turning the Rosewood into a “charity catering hall” that will host fundraisers for Parkinson’s disease and veterans causes, as well as ballroom dancing events. He may seek to convert it into a martial arts studio. The 72-year-old said he has been involved in the adult entertainment business for more than 50 years, but he’s also been a real estate developer and fitness club operator.

“We’re going to use it. We’re going to fix it up really nice,” he said. “It’s just part of my portfolio.”

Promotional listings appearing on a website and Facebook page for Sherwood’s Saints and Sinners club in April 2016 revealed very different intentions for the Frankford Avenue site. The promos touted a “Grand Opening and Tom’s 71st Birthday Celebration” at a new Northeast location. At the time, Saints and Sinners clubs were already open in Port Richmond and Atlantic City. The new location’s amenities were to include various “play rooms” for large groups, semi-private access and VIPs, as well as multiple bars, dance floors, stripper poles and a locker room.

That grand opening never occurred. Responding to complaints, city inspectors visited the site and found renovations were underway although the city had issued no permits for the work. L&I Commissioner David Perri said at the time the kitchen had been removed and workers were building a series of small private rooms within the banquet hall. The department issued a cease operations order.

Several hundred people attended the April 21, 2016, civic meeting. Typically, the monthly meetings draw a few dozen residents. Outside the entrance, a woman handed out brochures claiming the renovation of the Rosewood as a catering hall. But inside the meeting hall, Henon claimed that Sherwood misled him about the intended use.

“In January, I spoke to the man who purchased the Rosewood,” Henon said. “He told me that it’s going to remain a catering hall. But that is not the intended use of Mister Sherwood and Saints and Sinners. Nobody in the community was notified and included in the process, and that includes myself.”

L&I also doubted Sherwood’s claim that he intended to use the property for catering.

“We’re going to stand by the advertising that was distributed until they prove otherwise,” Perri said. “If they submit an application, we will not accept anything other than what we know the intended use is.”

Asked to explain the commissioner’s apparent change of heart, Guss said that the newly issued permit will allow L&I to keep closer tabs on the property.

“The actual rationale of a permit is it triggers a series of inspections and it ensures building safety,” Guss said.

The required inspections include an initial site visit and inspections for “framing/close-in,” insulation, “prefinal/wallboard” and a final inspection.

There are two avenues for appealing a building permit. If the legal use of the site is in question, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear the case. If the issues involve safety and building code compliance, the Board of L&I Review will hear the case. All board decisions may be appealed to the state courts, starting with the Court of Common Pleas. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.