Proposal: Bring Amtrak Trains to Center City

Amtrak_Vermonter_at_Brattleboro_in_2004

It’s the easiest thing in the world to board an Amtrak train in Philly and be in New York barely an hour later. Would it be an even better process if Philadelphians could board that train in Center City?

Bob Previdi thinks so. A transit expert — and former spokesman for retired Council President Anna Verna — Previdi points out in an opinion piece for Philadelphia Business Journal there’s already a tunnel from 30th Street Station to Suburban and Market Street stations used by SEPTA. Just let a couple of Amtrak trains per hour use that tunnel, he says, and the results might be startling:

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Brickstone: Mercantile Library to Become Coworking Space

The Mercantile Library at 1021 Chestnut, as seen in 1964. Photo courtesy MSC.

The Mercantile Library at 1021 Chestnut, as seen in 1964. Brickstone aims to make it a coworking space. Photo courtesy MSC.

This morning’s membership meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC) at the Union League was standing room only, and it wasn’t for the coffee and danish. The numerous guests in attendance were there for “New Center City Demographics: The Upside for Retail Leasing & Development,” a panel moderated by Center City District’s Paul Levy that included Larry Steinberg, Senior VP of CBRE|FAMECO; John Connors, VP of Brickstone Realty; and Eddie Gindi, VP of Century 21 Department Stores.

Despite interesting overall updates on the Center City residential market (Levy) and its retail market (Steinberg), the crowd was perhaps most interested in the presentations by the two who got specific about the projects they’re bringing to Market East — projects that will radically alter the shape of the neighborhood, or at least that’s what everyone is hoping.

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Renderings for East Market Project Released

east market rendering detail

Detail from one of the East Market renderings. Full versions below. Courtesy National Real Estate Development.

Here are the renderings, by BLT Architects, of the East Market development slated for the four-acre parcel between Market and Chestnut, 11th and 12th. Unlike other ill-fated projects in this location, it seems as though this one will actually happen — no small thanks to Union boss John Dougherty (of whom we’ll say more later).

A key feature of the project, as you can see from the renderings, is to incorporate about 9,600 square feet of digital (and static) signage. That’s a lotta bling.

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Philebrity’s Joey Sweeney Gets Real About the Gallery

Bye Bye, Big-K! Photo courtesy of Google Street View

The Gallery’s Big-K, now defunct.
Photo courtesy of Google Street View

I’m a little behind on my philebrity reading, so I’m only just now getting to the post titled “A Small Request: Will You Please Stop Talking About The Gallery In Wincing Tones Just Because Black People Shop There?” It’s a response, of sorts, to Inga Saffron’s latest Changing Skyline column about the Gallery, which was refreshing in its characterization of the urban mall as a thriving center of commerce but oddly devoid of any mention of race, which could be seen as progressive (it’s a post-racial America!) or simply evasive.

I’ve lived in the city since the Gallery was built, and the patrons and the attitude about those patrons have shifted considerably over the years, in the same way the conversation about South Street has changed. Which is to say: white people were perfectly happy to go to both locations and see them as reasonably successful until African-Americans started to go there as well. In 2006, Philly photographer Steve Ives, “an unashamed patron” of the Gallery, wrote about the mall for Philly Skyline:

If Chris Rock were a Philadelphian he’d call [the Gallery] “The Mall White People Used To Go To”. It seems that much of downtown, which heralded the promise of what The Gallery would bring to Center City, now see it as an embarrassment, as a liability, something to deter tourists from and deny the existence of to new Philadelphians.

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Newspapers to Lose Lobby as New Retail Headed to 801 Market Street

In a memo sent to all Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com employees yesterday, publisher Bob Hall announced some new retail for 801 Market Street! He didn’t disclose what, exactly, was coming to the old Strawbridge & Clothier building in Market East, but the Inquirer reports it’s Century 21 — no relation to the real estate company — a discount designer department store with seven locations in New York and New Jersey. Hall told employees at the newspapers and website that they will “be pleased with the flagship retailer that PREIT has secured and will soon announce as our new neighbor in the coming weeks” — oh, and also, they’ll now have to enter the building from Eighth Street.

The memo contains lots of classic corporate speak — the closing of the Market Street lobby, which people who work at 801 Market generally use, is presented as a great opportunity for the company — and also notes that “deconstruction of the space will at times be loud and somewhat messy.” Unfortunately, Hall uses two spaces after a period — argh!

More deatils on the Century 21 announcement at Shoppist.

 

The full memo follows:

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Morning Headlines: Lit Brothers Tower Gets Civic Design Approval

Rendering by Stantec Architecture.

Rendering by Stantec Architecture.

The new Comcast tower wasn’t the only project given the go-ahead by the Civic Design Review committee. It also approved revised plans from developer Brickstone Realty for the “Lit Brothers Tower,” a 30-story residential “growth” (as Curbed Philly put it) on top of the historic department store building.

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Morning Headlines: Vaguely Plausible Plans to Demolish, Build at 11th and Market

11th and Market, facing west.  Photo credit: Google Street View.

11th and Market, facing west.
Photo credit: Google Street View.

Philadelphia’s stagnating retail corridor on the east side of Market Street might finally get a major wake-up call, and we’re not talking about the Gallery. Instead, the owners of the drab strip of stores on the block between 11th and 12th have secured new backing from IBEW and National Real Estate Advisors that makes their plans for the block seem like they might finally come to fruition. The stores currently on the 1100 block have been cleared out for demolition in July, to make way for a development named East Market.

Restaurants, entertainment, fashion stores, and even grocers will be included in the new project, but here’s a more elaborate description by the Inquirer’s Joe DiStefano:

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Morning Headlines: Market8 Gets Three Political Endorsements

Rendering of Market8.

Rendering of Market8.

Market8 has been endorsed yet again, this time by state and local legislators: Rep. John Taylor, Rep. Michael O’Brien, and Councilman Mark Squilla. They join a line of supporters that includes the Washington West Civic Association and the Philadelphia NAACP.

The casino bidder’s presentation at last month’s hearings before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board made a stronger impression than those of the other contenders.

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Philadelphia’s Most Endangered Properties 2013

The big news that was embargoed until this morning yet released yesterday anyway is the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s 11th Annual Endangered Properties List. It should come as no surprise that the list includes all of the city’s closed schools. But let’s start with Market East.

Robinson_webRobinson Store
Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, 1946 1020 Market Street, Philadelphia

As interest and activity increases around development of East Market Street, older buildings — some of them historic — may be threatened. That’s certainly the case with the Robinson Store, built by Victor Gruen and Elsie Krummeck, who partnered to design 11 stores for the Grayson-Robinson chain (which sold ladies’ underwear at low prices. Oh, Robinson, where are you now?). Gruen is an especially important figure in commercial architecture, whether you love him or hate him, as he’s known as the inventor of the shopping mall.

The Robinson Store in Center City is easy to pass by without a glance, but as the Alliance points out, it is “the last surviving example of a building campaign that epitomized the use of architecture as advertisement.” It’s a Don Draper dream.

And that’s not all that’s threatened by East Center City development. The former Coward Shoes at 1118 Chestnut is scheduled to be demolished in early 2014 — and that circa-1949 building was designed by Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much impossible to tell that either of the buildings were ever especially impressive, so the facades would need to be restored.

As that’s not going to happen with 1118, the Alliance is calling for the restoration of the Robinson façade, which actually would benefit the developer who did it because the store is within a district that incentivizes facade improvements. “It would be a major preservation victory and could anchor any number of redevelopment plans for the rest of the block.”

Now for the other sites…

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PREIT’s Plans for the Gallery Are Less Elusive. Sort Of.

The mysterious game-changing redevelopment project PREIT has planned for the Gallery has become a little less elusive. Sort of. Since October, PREIT has dropped more hints about what “transformative” retailers will bring to Philadelphia’s retail scene. From the Inquirer:

“We anticipate delivering a project that is a focal point for the City of Philadelphia, drives the transformation of the retail landscape in the city and the evolution of the corridor into a vibrant shopping, entertainment, and dining district.”

Apparently, the positive impact East Market Street gets will come from one of two ways:

“One is a high-fashion anchor center utilizing one of the four high-fashion department stores. Another possible alternative is what we call ‘fast fashion and food,’ if you will, and that is to redevelop [the area] more consistent with some of the more trendy suburban mall tenants – like the Forever 21, the H&M, the Uniqlo.”

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