Normandy Civic discusses future of Nabisco site

City Councilman Brian O’Neill said he doesn’t want the former Nabisco bakery to become “another shopping center.”

Overhead view of the former Nabisco bakery at Roosevelt Boulevard and Red Lion Road. SOURCE: GOOGLE MAPS

The streetscape around Roosevelt Boulevard and Woodhaven Road is in store for major changes. City Councilman Brian O’Neill has some strong opinions on how the neighborhood should look.

During the monthly meeting of the Normandy Civic Association last Thursday, O’Neill said he doesn’t want the former Nabisco bakery to become “another shopping center.” And he’s also hoping to convince Crown Holdings to remain in its corporate headquarters nearby, despite the company’s recent sale of the 46-acre property.

“I want something special, something people will drive to from a distance,” O’Neill said of the 27.5-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and Byberry Road.

A new Wawa store has already been approved for the site, but that leaves 27 acres available for redevelopment, O’Neill said. A sneaker distributor will continue to lease a small warehouse there, but Nabisco’s iconic six-story bakery will be torn down.

According to the councilman, another industrial use is preferred for the site because of the stable, family-sustaining jobs it would likely generate. But the existing facilities there have problems. They are obsolete for baking and they will cost almost as much to raze as the value of the underlying real estate. The estimate on demolition is $5 million to $6 million, he said.

The property is still zoned industrial. Any permanent zoning change would require city council to pass a bill. O’Neill said he has offered to meet with any developers who have proposals for the land. He expects retail or commercial uses are most likely, but he doesn’t want a new shopping center to draw existing businesses away from established retail spaces, because that doesn’t benefit the local economy and contributes to store vacancies.

During a question and answer period, a woman said she’d like to see a Wegman’s supermarket built there. O’Neill thinks that would be a tough sell because of the city’s sugar beverage tax and the site’s close proximity to Bucks County, where the tax is not in effect.

Other meeting goers said they are concerned about the traffic impact of the new Wawa. Byberry Road is notorious for its rush hour congestion, while Roosevelt Boulevard handles about 24,000 vehicles a day at that intersection, according to PennDOT data. O’Neill said the builder will construct a 400-foot-long entrance and exit lane.

Crown Holdings occupies a custom-built corporate headquarters on the east side of the Boulevard about a half mile north of the Nabisco site. Crown is considered the largest container and packaging manufacturer in the world. It makes the cans used by Coca-Cola and Budweiser. In 1996, Crown relocated from its prior headquarters on Ashton Road to the newly built, 238,000-square-foot Roosevelt Boulevard facility with the help of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Authority.

Overhead view of Crown Holdings headquarters at Roosevelt Boulevard and Crown Way. SOURCE: GOOGLE MAPS

In April, the company sold the property to a New Jersey-based real estate firm, then signed an 18-month renewable lease to remain in the building. A real estate services company that facilitated the transaction reportedly issued a statement that Crown is looking to relocate outside the city or the state.

O’Neill said last week that city officials are trying to convince the company to stay local, even if the new owner subdivides the building and leases part of it to another tenant. Crown’s headquarters staff has downsized in recent years.

“They don’t have nearly the number of people they used to,” O’Neill said.

In unrelated business, state Rep. Mike Driscoll also addressed the Normandy residents during the civic meeting. He reported that his staff can help people identify unclaimed assets the state’s Treasury Department is holding.

Often, Driscoll said, people die and leave assets their heirs don’t know about, so the state takes possession of the property and publishes listings of the rightful owners. Driscoll said he helped one constituent reclaim $40,000 through the program and a local labor union reclaim $70,000. Information about the unclaimed property program is available via patreasury.gov or 800–222–2046.

Driscoll said his staff can help constituents with state-related questions, as well as those involving city and federal issues. On Fridays, a staff member for at-large City Councilman Allan Domb is available for public inquiries at Driscoll’s district office at 3294 Red Lion Road. On Tuesdays, a staff member for U.S. Rep. Bob Brady is available at Driscoll’s other district office at 7104 Torresdale Ave. ••

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