Philadelphia Heights put the spotlight on some exciting movement taking place in our struggling retail corridor, Market East. While The Gallery at Market once sought to streamline a successful haven of consumerism, it merely turned it in on itself, eclipsing the street in the shadow of windowless concrete. The same tactics that work in suburban shopping malls surrounded by parking lots, don't typically fly in dense urban areas that rely on window shopping.
Often criticised by car bound urban newbies who still flee to Cherry Hill for groceries, The Gallery is surprisingly practical. There is no denying the loss of Strawbridge's put a huge dent in its retail portfolio, particularly upscale retail. Still, if you're an urbanite and don't have a car, it's a great resource. Personally, I'd be lost without K-Mart.
The mall could be better. What mall couldn't in this economic climate? But its vicinity contributes to The Gallery's woes as much as its management. The Gallery's architecture can't be faulted for its lack of Baby Gaps. It's a mall. From Manhattan to Terre Haute, they all look the same.
Unfortunately its sensible and malleable design is just that. It's there and it's dull, and its success will partially rely on exciting surroundings. But when you step out on the sidewalk, the stage presented to tourists ferried from their hotel to The Liberty Bell, it's not just dull, it's depressing.
As a purported historic district, it's history is purely philosophical. With four arguably historically significant buildings between 8th and 12th, Market East's historic credibility is in its place as the nation's first concentrated avenue of consumer goods, not its architecture.
Fortunately, developers are starting to understand the artery's importance as just that, and recognizing this forgotten potential.
The organization managing The Gallery, PREIT, will begin a $100M renovation this year. Although Strawbridge's retail space is still unspoken for, it's upper levels have been renovated for the relocation of the employees formerly housed in the State Office Building on North Broad.
Nearby at between 11th and 12th, JOSS Realty Partners, SSH Real Estate, and Young Capital will be demolishing the two storeys that remain of the old Snellenberg's Department Store, replacing it with the 280,000 Pavilion at Market East.
With City Target as a possible anchor, like The Gallery at Market East, The Pavilion will be built to support a skyscraper. Target completion is 2014.
Goldenberg Group, Inc. is planning its own retail and entertainment complex on the long reviled Disney Hole at 8th and Market.
While three large retail complexes would be ambitious even in a successful suburb, the long list of savvy developers involved suggests confidence in our market. And given Center City's lack of suburban challenging entertainment, grocers, and retail, it seems a logical move to introduce some large scale capitalistic competition.
Undoubtedly, there were be plenty of push back from tunnel visioned activists. Many Philadelphians are staunchly opposed to chains and will complain about any new retail that isn't local and organic.
But the opposition are often those who most vocally avoid Market East, so what better place to erect Philadelphia's dirty little secret: A successful, corporate retail and entertainment corridor catering to conventioneers and tourists, and of course those of us who don't turn our nose up at buying kitty litter from K-Mart.