Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Market8 and a Tub of Lego Blocks

When I first saw the new rendering for the Market8 Casino, I have to admit, I was a little excited. Giddy, even. We don't see a lot of proposals for new high rises in the city, particularly ones that deviate from a simple glass cube.

Market8 certainly does that.

Still, as Philebrity rightly pointed out, this casino won't happen. If we get another casino, we'll likely wind up with The Provenance or Wynn, the former being more exciting and, at the Inquirer Building, most central.

Market8 spokeswoman Maureen Garrity and lead developer Ken Goldenberg excitedly talk about engaging the site with the sidewalks, providing restaurants and retail space at street level with the casino upstairs.

That's a noble gesture and one that respects its location. In fact, in that regard, were we to actually see Market8 on Market East, it might just be the most respectful casino in any major city that doesn't exclusively cater to gambling.

Of course some of the more dangerous threats from Center City casinos come with their routinely phased development. Market8 might be pitching its casino with a high rise, but if this were to play out like SugarHouse we'd be left with a lackluster stump that looks a lot like a suburban movie theater.

Then there's parking. Market8 has clearly provided a parking garage in its design, and it appears that the surface lot on 8th and Chestnut is still available in the rendering. But SugarHouse provides a similar configuration, plus acres of surface parking lots sometimes full.

It won't take long for predatory land hoarders to recognize a demand for supplemental parking and begin buying up and demolishing adjacent buildings. Keep in mind, historic Jewelers Row is a block away. 

Market8 can't be blamed for this, particularly when the Pennsylvania Convention Center was allowed to move forward with no designated parking. But until the city sets a moratorium on private parking or raises the taxes on these lots, any casino in a depressed zone like Market East or North Broad unintentionally threatens the surrounding architecture.

Beyond the possibility that Market8 could replace the Disney Hole for an even larger Casino Hole, there's the redesign itself. Market8's previous rendering called for a low profile building running horizontally between 8th and 9th. It was sleek and modern, but also subtle and sophisticated. Of all the proposed casino designs in Philadelphia, it was the most applauded, even by some in the casino opposition camp. But for some reason, Market8's design team decided to throw out their webbed facade for something entirely different.

Maureen Garrity and Ken Goldenberg pitched the latest incarnation as a nod to the corridor's historic infrastructure, siting it a modernist interpretation of Wanamaker's or Gimbel's, essentially suggesting the more traditional approach is what we'd expect to see if Market East were the thriving commercial it should be.

I see what they're getting at. Market8's geometric shapes and ABC color palette reference recent proposals for a revived Girard Trust Block and renovations for The Galley at Market East. 

Previous Proposal for Market8

It's unfortunate because the previous design was a nice start. Even if Market8 faces an uphill battle, one it will likely lose, exciting proposals are exciting nevertheless. Instead of building on the prior concept, Market8 decided to play with a tub of Lego Blocks and gave us a collage of recycled postmodernism. 

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