FOOD DISTRIBUTION CENTER
Famed city planner Edmund Bacon was demolishing blocks of structures around the new Independence National Historical Park to make way for Independence Mall, where chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas was building its new corporate headquarters. The Food Distribution Center was moved from Dock Street on the waterfront to South Philadelphia, making way for the fashionable new Society Hill Towers. And against this landscape, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) was born. However, it was a long road to launching the Food Distribution Center as one of our earliest developments.
For more than 100 years the Dock Street Market, located in the heart of Philadelphia’s historic core, was the City’s center for food distribution. By early 1950, the market was run-down, overcrowded, and presented extreme fire and health hazards. Equally important, the market was a serious deterrent to the orderly realization of the brilliant plans for the renewal and revitalization of our nation’s hallowed Independence Hall area.
A 388-acre burning trash dump in South Philadelphia was selected as the prime location. The idea for a new wholesale food facility in South Philadelphia caught on immediately. To get the ball rolling, a new entity was created. The Food Distribution Center Corporation (FDC) was envisioned as a nonprofit redeveloper to design and carry out the building program under contract with the City and the Redevelopment Authority.
After a year-long construction period, the old Dock Street markets closed on a Friday night in June 1959, and the merchants opened their new stores in the Food Distribution Center the following Monday.
Overtime, the Food Distribution Center became a self-sufficient enterprise with its own banking facilities, post office, shops, restaurants, a major hotel, and a full service truck port. There were 171 merchants housed in 43 modern buildings handling a great variety of food products and employing about 9,000 people. At its peak, annual sales exceeded $1 billion. Activities included refrigerated storage, processing, packaging, warehousing, distribution and offices for food brokers. The Center’s facilities for handling fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood products were unsurpassed. It was also one of the nation’s largest wholesale meat processing centers.
Similar to the need that prompted the creation of the FDC, as business grew, the market’s merchants required more advanced facilities to remain competitive and meet modern food safety requirements. In June 2011, Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market (PWPM) — the world’s largest fully-enclosed, fully-refrigerated wholesale produce terminal — opened on Essington Avenue. PIDC provided financing that was instrumental in the development. All of the original Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market merchants moved here from the Philadelphia Regional Produce Terminal. The building overall features 40 foot ceiling heights, 228 enclosed and fully refrigerated 50-foot wide dock areas, a central walking concourse, a skylight for natural lighting running the length and width of the building, and more. The facility’s main building is one-quarter of a mile long and nearly 700,000 square feet. While enormous, its size is not its most unique feature — its end-to-end refrigeration is as it ensures freshness, food safety, quality, and longer shelf life.
At the site of the former Food Distribution Center in South Philadelphia, PIDC has continued to enhance the economic value of this area of the city. In 2017, after demolishing the vacant structures, the land was sold to PhilaPort to support its planned $300 million expansion of the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal less than a mile to the east.