CHELTENHAM >> The Elkins Estate, a seven-building estate in Elkins Park, will be renovated within two years, after the property is purchased by New Jersey-based Landmark Developers.
By November, the developer plans to pay $6 million to the current owners of the 42-acre estate, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci, who have owned portions of the property since the 1950s, said Frank Cretella, president of Landmark Developers.
The estate, located at 750 Ashbourne Road, was built in 1898 by William Elkins, a prominent businessman who built the Philadelphia Railroad Co. and the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co. After the entire estate was bought by the Dominican Sisters from the Elkins family, it was primarily used as a women’s religious retreat, which officially closed in 2006.
Landmark Developers plan to renovate all of the buildings on the property, which will include a 120-room hotel, a spa, a farm, restaurants, a distillery, a helipad, a recording studio, an outdoor bandshell, a pool and a bocce ball court, among other amenities, Cretella said.
After purchasing the property, the developer plans to renovate the main building as soon as possible. All renovations to the estate are expected to take two years to complete, Cretella said.
“The site is in an odd location,” he said. “It’s not by Philadelphia, not close to the airport; people don’t come there for another attraction. Here, we have to create the attraction.”
The proposed distillery and an English Tudor mansion on site will act as an event space. There will also be a hydroponic farm, which will supply the restaurant and catering facility, Cretella said.
The Cheltenham Planning Commission voted unanimously to move the project forward at a meeting in July. On Aug. 1, the developer presented the plans for the estate to the public and the board of commissioners’ building and zoning committee.
The commissioners made a motion to move the project forward for the full approval of the board, which was scheduled for its Aug. 15 meeting.
Additionally, the developer wishes to partner with the local schools to provide a “kitchen classroom” and recording studio for students to practice their culinary and music skills, Cretella said.
The developer has a site plan, which dictates what the buildings will be used for, but does not have any interior floor plans yet. The company has not decided on an architect for the project.
“In reality, there’s very little for an architect to do because the vast majority of this project is just historic renovation,” Cretella said. “A lot has to do with making sure you’re using the same materials if something needs to be replaced.”
A large part of the renovation will deal with civil engineering, as new mechanical systems and services need to be added, like parking lots, Cretella said.
However, the developer plans to not do any major construction on any of the buildings, only modifications to the interior.
Landmark Developers hope to build a helipad on site to accommodate celebrity guests. This is a point of concern for some community residents, said Brad Pransky, the commissioner of Ward 3 in Cheltenham, where the estate is located.
“The helipad will be used infrequently; it’s not a daily event,” Pransky said. “This will put Cheltenham at a whole new level as far as the facilities and capabilities that we offer as a municipality.”
“Obviously, it’s a convenience for this location that’s 40 minutes outside of the airport, but it’s also a great marketing tool,” Cretella said. “If you get someone fly in that’s going to use the recording studio, that carries a lot of weight in branding and marketing.”
Other residents are concerned about an increase in traffic and noise.
“There have been weddings, movie shoots, photo shoots at this estate, and there have been no complaints,” Pransky said. “[The renovations] won’t change that.”
The estate is expected to have a large impact on Cheltenham township economically, Pransky said.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Pransky said. “It’s the beginnings of more development in the bringing of commercial aspects into a residential community. It will help increase our commercial tax base and help take some of that increasing burden off of the homeowners.”
“These renovations are going to bring a lot to the area,” Cretella said. “I think that employment is the biggest thing and the relationship we plan to have with local schools.”