Thursday, October 31, 2013

FMC's Cira Centre South

Finally some truly exciting news for Philadelphia's skyline. Cira Centre South isn't dead. FMC Corp., headquartered at 1745 Market will be moving into 47 stories of new Brandywine real estate at 30th and Walnut.

The 650 foot tower will rival Center City's skyline and include 260 apartments and Penn offices.

For the time being, FMC seems to be going with the design for Pelli Clark Pelli and Bower Lewis Thrower's Cira Centre South.

However Campus Crest changed up the design at 30th and Chestnut with The Grove so it wouldn't be surprising to see FMC bring a new look to the table.

FMC is a chemical company specializing in everything from Lithium to detergent.

With numerous projects throughout University City scraping Philadelphia's sky, FMC is helping challenge City City's centricity.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Banksy's Irrelevant Opinion

Often the line between editorials and rants is fine and technical. Editorials are opinionated, but backed by personal points of reference and alternatives. They are intended to foster debate, not blow off steam.

Rants typically consist of "grass is greener" jargon and argument bait. Of course rants are usually published in the comments below an article so by the time an argument ensues, the writer is long gone.

Banksy, London's popular yet illusive graffiti artist, has been making his way through New York City.

Some love him and some hate him. Some think he's a vandal, others a political statement. Few claim to know who he is.

But this isn't about Banksy the artist. It's about Banksy the self professed architecture critic.

Banksy's mock New York Times page, including the article he presented as an editorial.

Banksy recently presented an editorial to the New York Times, a rant attempting to eviscerate the design for the city's new One World Trade Center. His editorial is full of 9-11 bait claiming the "shyscraper" proves the terrorists won simply because he doesn't care for the building.

His commentary is too literal to delve into. The true problem with his article is it serves no purpose. Not liking the new WTC is fine. It's been both torn apart and praised by architecture critics around the world. Any opinion can be validated.

But Banksy fails to mention why. He offers no alternatives, perhaps because he isn't versed in architecture enough to know where to go. Instead of citing similar designs, better designs, or even comparing it to the original World Trade Center, he suggests "kids with roller poles" tag the façade.

Returning the commentary Banksy started back to his comfort zone is elementary. But he's not even doing that. His writing is trite. If he thinks the WTC would look better tagged with his Blek le Rat rip offs, tell us why.

But he can't. One of the biggest differences between an editorial and a rant, especially when published online, is the anonymity of the author. In order to have a legitimate opinion you have to be available to answer to it.

It's not surprising that the New York Times declined to publish his editorial. The mysterious nature that surrounds his identity excuses himself from any debate. It allows him to scream and the sun with no accountability. 

Banksy took the Times' snub to the streets, tagging an unrelated Brookly building with the words, "This site contains blocked messages," as if the Times was censoring his words. It does his artwork no service, particularly when One World Trade Center has been no stranger to criticism.

Banksy's reaction to the New York Times' snub suggesting that the Times censored his work. Confusing censorship with bad writing, Banksy fails to note that every news outlet in the nation published a copy of his editorial in one way or another.
The juvenile words in his unpublished (now published everywhere) New York Times editorial expose flaws in the man's creativity and talent.

Much - perhaps all - of Banksy's success stems from his mystique.

A lot of artists prefer anonymity. But it's one thing to want to exercise your craft and be left alone. It's another to get off on being noticed, on stirring up shit, and then vanish before anyone can ask for a follow up.

The cultural statement in Banksy's art has always been subversive, and graffiti has been the perfect medium for his message. But his editorial opens up the motivation as a political rabblerouser.

Did he not get the reception in New York that he expected? Was he annoyed that One World Trade Center overshadowed the grace of his presence. We'll never know. His position is almost voyeuristic.

Banksy's success in art circles hinged on his absence. The interesting thing about being an anonymous artist is that the second you succeed, you're no longer successful. If the one quality that sets you apart from other outsider artists is that no one knows who you are, then the mysterious allure that gives your work any credibility is gone the moment you submit an article to the New York Times.

Whether the identity of Banksy has been exposed or not, we now know enough about the man to examine his work at face value. Compared to the extravagant graffiti that adorns the lesser parts of New York City and much of Philadelphia, without mystery Banksy's stencils are boring and his installations look like marketing gimmicks, an anti-establishment Target advertisement.

London and New York City have separate cultural issues. Perhaps Banksy doesn't get that. Maybe he doesn't understand the difference between censorship and bad writing. If Banksy wanted to test the international waters, he should have remained humble, because right now he looks like an ass.

Stock Up On Sriracha

Residents of the small town of Irwindale, CA have filed a motion in Los Angeles County Court this Monday against Huy Fong Foods, maker of what's become one of the world's most popular table side condiments, Sciracha.

Claiming the factory's odors have become a public nuisance, Irwindale City Attorney Fred Galente will be asking the court to force Huy Fong Foods to close until the smell can be controlled.

While Fred Galente and plaintiffs allege the order has been a long time coming, it comes suspiciously on the heels of an article by Roberto A. Ferdman that went viral exactly one week earlier.

In it, Ferdman opened up some of David Tran's less conventional business practices, namely that Tran's three decade hot sauce venture only vaguely resembles the successful business that it is.

Uninterested in profit, Tran shuns marketing strategies and advertising gimmicks. Sriracha has become a global staple as synonymous with ketchup solely by word of mouth.

He harvests locally and bottles fresh. Tran's private company doesn't answer to shareholders asking him to pack his products with preservatives. It's solely controlled by its inventor. When Tran immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, he wanted a spicy sauce for his noodle soup that reminded him of home, and then wanted to share it with the world.

In an industry unethically lobbying against GMO labels and organic farming, Huy Fong Foods may be the world's most successful provider of the kind of ingredients we all want.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished.

Irwindale is a small town that has been absorbed into the massively sprawling Los Angeles metropolis. Complaints about the factory aren't surprising. Had this motion been filed years ago, months ago, even weeks ago, it would seem believable that a factory that processes billions of chili peppers a year might truly be burning the eyes of neighbors.

But it wasn't filed months ago, it was filed one week after Ferdman inadvertently, perhaps regrettably, told the world and Tran's neighbors just how much cash one man was sitting on.

Sriracha hopefully won't be going away, but a temporary halt in production could raise its price. But you may want to stock up. Tran is a curious and accidental businessman, one resistant to publicity. If no one else knows his recipe and he decides to close shop out of frustration, we're all back to smothering our inedible cheesesteaks in ketchup and Tabasco.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dinosaur Droppings

Inga Saffron shared a post on her Facebook page today that sums up the disgusting state of mainstream journalism today. At least with tabloids, we know we're getting crap. That's why we read them. But when someone picks up a copy of the Inquirer, goes to, or even grabs a Philadelphia Magazine, you expect at least an elementary level of journalistic ethics.

Journals routinely conduct surveys, ones that tell us where to eat, where to get drunk, and where to get laid. They tell us which cities are the ugliest, the healthiest, and the poorest. Unless it states "This is a Paid Advertisement" at the bottom of the page we assume, however bias, it's based on something.

Apparently USA Today solicited Philadelphia's Fleisher School to participate in its upcoming "Best of Philly" spread. The kicker? USA Today wanted money.

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise. Sure, it's certainly unscrupulous for a newspaper to solicit a bribe, but after asking where journalistic integrity had gone, I asked myself, "is USA Today still around?"

Let's face it. Gannett's USA Today newspaper boxes are a few shorts years away from being excavated alongside dinosaur droppings and phone books. I guess I'm more shocked that they'd be so open about this unethical journalism than the fact that it actually takes place.

NREA's Market East

A new rendering for the Girard Trust block - the 1100 block of Market East - has been released by NREA Development Services.

Likely a massing study, it's similar to prior proposals for the block with the addition of two towers.

Although NREA appears to have left the handsome Girard Building as well as an older building on 11th Street untouched, the Market Street façade isn't that much more interesting than the truncated Snellenberg's Department store that stands on the site today.

That's not to say it can't be. The proposal is rough. With a little imagination, this looks a lot like the proposed Essex Crossing in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Manhattan's Proposed Essex Crossing
The Girard Block includes the midcentury retail and parking complex on Chestnut Street. The corner of 11th and Chestnut was recently renovated and it's unclear if that property is included in this proposal, if it's intended to be part of a phased development schedule, or if it will remain untouched.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Viaduct Impossible

After reading about the so called "marriage" of the Friends of the Rail Park and the Reading Viaduct Project I decided to take a look. Like many who live within spitting distance of Callowhill's industrial district, I don't spend a lot of "me time" in the vicinity.

While pricey loft conversions have sprouted up in the neighborhood between 11th and Broad, it's still a very real, working industrial zone. I've been to Prohibition Tap Room, The Trestle Inn, Café Lift, and the wildly pretentious Bufad Pizza boutique, but many in the neighborhood are still struggling to identify with what Callowhill is.

Callowhill is doing what it was designed to do, to work. Currently that's servicing Chinatown's restaurants and grocery stores and harboring outsider artists who like its grit. It's been doing that since the early 1900s.

While some of the louder neighborhood voices are fighting for a Reading Viaduct Park, and now a City Branch Park, they've done little to prove that it would ever be a viable concept.

Part of the problem comes from residents' insular view of their neighborhood. Sure, their lofts are hip and expansive, but they're fortressed behind parking lots and the echo of real estate agents spouting, "you're so close to Center City."

The Reading Viaduct Park is a great vision, but that's what it is, a vision. Aside from the complex ownership of the structure, much of the neighborhood still needs to prove they want to spend their free time there. Right now, its more upscale residents view Callowhill as a gritty Conshohocken. They're detached.

Urban enclaves are more than planned communities surrounded by tax funded freeways and parks. Urban communities, often strapped for cash, are communal.

Locked within a condominium complex in Callowhill, you'll find a lot of like minded people who wonder why the Reading Viaduct hasn't been demolished, turned into a park, or turned back into a transit line. But many of those residents moved to the city with the same resistance to urban realities that maintains a private parking space. In their mind, they're near Center City, not in it.

Callowhill, callously referred to as the Loft District by realtors, isn't that. It's not a dead industrial zone awaiting the salvation of suburban refugees blessing Philadelphia with its next hip neighborhood. Unlike the Northern Liberties' Piazza, Callowhill isn't a blank slate. Its proximity to Center City and industrial infrastructure make it a viable work horse.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in Callowhill's upscale voice is its impression that the neighborhood outside their condo is dysfunctional. Whatever they perceive it to be, that won't change because the neighborhood financially succeeds as it is.

Master plans can't be employed in a neighborhood that already works. As working urban enclave Callowhill will never be a planned community, and that means compromise. That's where advocates are lost. The neighborhood can be improved, but it means working inside the neighborhood, not above it.

Some of the more cynical residents might not see the beauty in Callowhill's gritty diversity, and parks are the canned response of shortsighted design. That's not to say Callowhill couldn't benefit from a splash of green, but starting big isn't just risky, it's illogical.

Callowhill is full of small, unused vacant lots, land on solid ground. Where is the community? Instead of transforming these small, potential oases into community gardens and pocket parks, they're illegally parking their unregistered cars on them.

It's hypocritical to defy the PPA with makeshift parking lots and then ask the city to burden itself with a park for neighbors who rarely spend time outside their own private terraces.

If Callowhill's lofty residents want their neighborhood to be lofty, they've got to do some of the legwork themselves.

Instead of proposing extremely expensive, tax funded park space they should be working to redevelop vacant property, wrangling retail and service business, and trying to make their neighborhood feel more like a neighborhood.

The combined advocacy groups operating under the name Friends of the Rail Park plan on converting the SEPTA spur into a park. Friends is certainly capable of raising the funds to transform and maintain this two block stretch of rail.

But the bulk of the viaduct's ownership is complex and uninvolved, and engineering the truly elevated portions of the rail is complicated. With all the talk from Viaduct advocates over the years, no one has formally addressed the real estate nightmare ahead of them.

For now, unless Callowhill's cushy residents are willing to put their foot to the pavement and grab a broom, this industrial neighborhood will remain unchanged.

As long as the industrial relic provides the neighborhood's backdrop one way or another, Callowhill will always feel exciting. Until Friends figures out how to transform and maintain, or more importantly buy the viaduct, they might want to try encouraging its neighbors to enjoy the neighborhood directly outside their doors.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hargreaves Penn's Landing and PlanPhilly are calling it a first look. Philly Magazine calls it the future.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation's Thomas Corcoran stated, “We don’t want this to be another plan sitting on a shelf," and boy has Penn's Landing seen it's share of those.

Hargreaves and Associates' redesigned Penn's Landing extends the existing I-95 cap to Walnut Street, completing the block, carrying the park over Columbus Boulevard, Penn's Landing's large parking lot, and to the water. It replaces the concrete Great Plaza and finally removes the useless west end of the nonexistent aerial tram to Camden.

From 1997 to 2004, the Delaware River Port Authority wasted over $13M on preliminary construction of an aerial tram called the Skylink, with more than $1M spent on additional "studies."

Additionally, Hargreaves employs a Calatrava like pedestrian bridge at South Street completing the street's connection to Penn's Landing.

The design is highly conceptual and open to speculation. Parking at the landing appears to be replaced by an elevated park, although it's not clear if parking will remain under the green plaza. The renderings also make some assumptions, for example the Chart House is gone.

As one of the few businesses catering to Penn's Landing, the Chart House will likely remain or will in someway be incorporated into Hargreaves new architecture.

In 2003, City Hall held a costly design competition. The Atlantis was one of the more outrageous proposals. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the competition was all part of a corrupt scandal that ended with an FBI investigation.

As it is, Festival Pier is huge. But as a concrete venue it's largely unused unless it's reserved for an event. Hargreaves proposal triples the amount of contiguous space, but transforming the entirety into a green space makes it an inviting public resource.

Add the Lombard Street pier to the mix, where the South Street pedestrian bridge ends, and the DRWC has itself a nice collection of inner city landscaping.

At one point Cesar Clarke Cesar of Cira Centre threw their name in the game, incorporating Penn's Landing's Skylink into what it referred to as Founders Square.

Perhaps one of the best elements in Hargreaves Penn's Landing is its openness to private development. The nonsensical flyovers between Market and Chestnut have been camouflaged by mid-rise apartment buildings, three setting right on the river.

So far no private developers have signed on, but if the city and the DRWC are willing to relinquish this property to make way for apartments and businesses, Penn's Landing's biggest obstacle - a lack of any reason to be there - is finally addressed.

The layout of Hargreaves and Associates Penn's Landing, and the DRWC's most recent pitch for a new waterfront.

More apartments on the water may not be enough to entice Society Hill's pedestrians and tourists to Penn's Landing, but it certainly helps offset such a costly endeavor, one the Seaport Museum and a few old ships can't carry themselves.

Penn's Landing as envisioned by Hargreaves and Associates, perhaps Penn's Landing's most hopeful proposal to date.

Hargreaves likely wants to stamp its brand on the design, evident in the fact that the firm has erased the existing park atop I-95, simply called I-95 Park. As it is it's a nice space, with it's truncated oval cut in half it was clearly designed to extend onto a nonexistent cap that was never completed.

Hargreaves completes the transition, but with their own design.

All of this may be moot when you consider the numerous empty promises and costly design studies performed by PennPraxis, the DRWC, the Delware River Port Authority, or whatever organization happened to be managing Penn's Landing at any point in the past forty years.

One of Penn's Landing's more...interpretive renderings. Personally, I love art that looks like the dreamscape of a junkie's K-hole, but I'm not sure where an engineer would find the fourth dimension required to actually build this.

The Race Street Pier was the DRWC's first major project since they were created in 2009. Prior to that nothing had been done with Penn's Landing since the Seaport Museum and the Great Plaza were built in the 1990s.

Although the Race Street Pier has been wildly popular, it's still new and the longevity of its success remains to be proven. Unlike Sister City's Park and a redesigned Dilworth Plaza, both of which are a response to Center City's residential growth that provide park space for people already on the ground, the Race Street Pier is an attempt to lure people to the water. We've seen how the "build it and they'll come" approach has worked in the past with the Festival Pier we have today. People love new parks, but quickly tire of them when they realize there's not much else around.

If the DRWC can muster the funds to bring even part of this project to fruition, particularly greening Festival Pier, it will be a vast improvement of what's there. Unfortunately, there will still be little reason to be there once the newness wears off.

The fatal flaw in Hargreaves plan echoes a mistake that the DRWC and Penn's Landing's managers before them can't seem to grasp. Without a wild destination attraction at river - think the St. Louis Arch or the London Eye - Penn's Landing will always be a detached lawn with a view of Camden far from anything interesting.

With Philadelphia's tradition of obscene cost overruns in everything it builds, a new Penn's Landing could easily exceed the cost of the Pennsylvania Convention Center but doesn't guarantee any return. It's understandable that those in charge are reluctant to pull the trigger on a design that isn't perfect. Still, when you consider the amount of money wasted on the Skylink, costly design competitions, and studies that found nothing but their own irrelevance, we could already have a pretty damn fine Penn's Landing.

Hopefully the DRWC can prove that they aren't just another organization in a long line of inept paper pushers, but rather the management that Penn's Landing has needed for the past four decades.'s Christine Flowers

When Christine Flowers isn't playing contrary to logic on Philadelphia's local incarnation of the McLaughlin Group, she's keeping the lights on in the Inquirer's new headquarters by spreading condescending visceral across the virtual pages of

I like smart conservatives. They understand what they believe and why and they respect those who differ. Like intelligent liberals, they know that for a democracy to succeed, a broad range of beliefs need to exist to balance our extremes. I also like stupid conservatives. Like stupid liberals, they're too uninformed to really understand their beliefs, beliefs that are often malleable. Sarah Palin actually seems like a really nice person.

I even find crazy conservatives entertaining. Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz - despite the billions they cost the country - are hilarious. They keep SNL on the air.

Christine Flowers is none of these things. She's a low budget Anne Counter. A muckraker. She's simply a contrarian. It's not hard to imagine Christine Flowers reporting out of Little Rock with the exact opposite agenda simply because people are more likely to ignore articles that blow smoke up their asses. 

She routinely cites her religious conviction as the foundation for her personal beliefs, as if anyone wants to know where a journalist goes to church. The reason we care about the foundational beliefs of our leaders is because they make our laws. Flowers is a reporter, not a politician, yet she arrogantly assumes her audience is more interested in her own beliefs than those of her subjects.

Even the most opinionated editorials maintain focus, but Flowers is primarily interested in telling us about herself.

Recently she interviewed Rep. Brian Sims, the state's first openly gay Congressman who's grabbed national attention by challenging just about everything that's wrong with politics.

The headline of her article grants Sims a pass as a liberal rival while the article reeks of self promotion and condescension, as if she is somehow Pennsylvania's political litmus test.

Instead of simply reporting on her interview with Sims, she seems to believe that she is allowing him to do his job, that her approval is needed.

She seems to think that momentarily pausing her xenophobic rhetoric is a humanitarian effort, but in doing so only makes her prejudice more obvious.

She might as well say, "I like Brian, he's gay but he doesn't really act gay."

I'm not painting an extreme, and Flowers' bigotry isn't just documented in the gay community. This is the journalist who called America's first Indian-American Miss America, Nina Davuluri, a "Miss Special Interest Group," callously referring to Davuluri's notion of the American Pie as the "Indian-American Samosa."

She even went as far as comparing her own Italian-American heritage to Davuluri's, as if a white woman named Flowers is being routinely stopped by the TSA.

Flowers concluded her article on Davuluri by criticizing Miss America's inspirational comments to minority children. Then Flowers expressed contempt for bigots, thus attempting to absolve herself of any accountability stating, "a plague on both your houses."

If you're going to judge people who comment on their own ethnicity or sexual orientation, stand by your judgments.

She ended her article on her interview with Sims somewhat more amicably, offering him an unsolicited and irrelevant endorsement, "Sims...gained many admirers, including yours truly."

Perhaps there's hope that someone so enamored with Sims' empathetic outlook may find a bit of her own.

Philadelphia's Sweet History

With the holidays approaching, shops are already stocking their shelves with those yellow boxes of candy. You know, the ones inevitably filled with half eaten pieces of mystery chocolates sometime about January 2nd.

I'm talking about the Whitman's Sampler. Me and my sister used to fight over the one piece of solid chocolate in the box.

Did you know the Sampler has its roots in Philadelphia? Older than our relationship with the cheesesteak, Whitman's Chocolates were created by Stephen F. Whitman and Sons in 1842.

Whitman's Retail Store, Chestnut Street, now the site of Men's Warehouse

Whitman's original confectionary shop was on Philadelphia's waterfront where he imported fruits and nuts from around the world. His original shop is long gone and its location is unclear, but his shops spread throughout the city with a flagship store at 12th and Market in 1866.

In the mid 1900s Whitman's was bought by an evaporated milk company and later sold to Russell Stover Candies in 1993.

Whitman's Retail Store, Chestnut Street

Russell Stover still produces the Whitman's Sampler, but its identity as a Philadelphia institution is all but gone, with Whitman's sole surviving storefront serving Men's Warehouse on Chestnut Street.

The Great Bull Run LLC

In the grand tradition of proving the American neck is as red as Russia's, ex-lawyer Rob Dickens has imported one of the developed world's most barbaric traditions...without any of its tradition, corporatizing it, and charging a cover.

I guess people were bored with Mud Runs and Warrior Dashes, or got tired of the fact that they require a shred of athleticism. Thousands of people gave The Great Bull Run LLC $70 a head to run around Virginia Motorsports Park near Richmond with twenty four angry bulls.

It sounds like a smart phone game, but the Humane Society took a different stance, stating, "These events are a shameful example of cruelty for the sake of nothing more than entertainment and profit."

Of course that's true. The Great Bull Run LLC is solely a for profit organization. As cruel as the Pamplona tradition may be, it is still a tradition, one culminating in an afternoon bullfight. Say what you will about either of those events, they date from the 14th Century which somehow makes them more acceptable.

Absolutely none of the, I guess you'd say romance, is present at Dicken's corporate event. In a region of Virginia commonly referred to as South Bumble ****, most participants probably think it's a Red Bull event and likely think Spain is somewhere near Mexico.

Even if The Great Bull Run LLC was in some way affiliated with the Spanish tradition, the United States is an entirely different country, one that aggressively outlaws cockfights and dog fighting as the despicable acts that they are.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Chesnut Street Renaissance

With Bru's indoor beer garden, Commonwealth 1201 apartments, West Elm, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Philly Cupcake, MilkBoy, Spice Cafe, Fago de Chao, Lucky Strike, and the White Building, East Chestnut's reputation as a stretch of warn retail might be a blind eyed judgment held only by Philadelphia's who remember what it was twenty years ago.

It certainly hasn't peaked and has a long way to go, but its reputation may already be one that new Philadelphians don't understand. It has its share of lack luster shops and vacant storefronts, but it's not as tragic as Market East. In fact, with the exception of the 1000 and 1100 blocks, business does quite well on Chestnut Street day and night, with many of the new businesses overshadowing the corridor's lingering blight.

It's about to get even better. In June, Brickstone Realty Corp. bought the Oppenheim, Collins & Co. Department Store, House of Beauty, and the dollar store on the 1100 block, all vacant.

Brickstone intends to turn the department store into a mixed use apartment and retail complex, demolishing the other two for new, additional retail.

While Chestnut's revival has been underway for the last decade, active development provides space for the unique boutiques being out priced by Walnut Street's increased rents, and even those businesses seeking refuge from West Chestnut's pricier real estate.

Once upon a time on Chestnut Street

For too long, much of Chestnut Street sat stagnant, with absentee slumlords and land hoarders awaiting a turn in the market, one that plummeted when city planners closed Chestnut Street to traffic and attempted to transform it into a pedestrian promenade.

Many owners simply sat on their vacant buildings by locking the doors and paying outdated property tax, not even bothering to rent to retailers and tenants simply because too few were even interested. The change is already here and property owners are waking up. Perhaps the best asset to Chestnut Street's renaissance is its affordability for start ups and independent boutiques, the kinds that transformed Walnut Street into what it is today.

A renewed interest in the area provides a vast amount of space that proves Center City's retail scene is nowhere near capacity. Its proximity could even lead curious retailers to Market East's even larger canvas of affordable real estate which, in the shadow of City Hall, remains inexplicably dormant.

Post Brothers warn renters: Don't Rent at Goldtex

What? That's right. Post Brothers are warning renters not to rent at their Goldtex Apartments. Why? Because you won't want to leave.

In a fun twist in marketing, Post Brothers have turned the union protest signs along Vine Street into their own advertisements, holding their own "Do Not Rent Here" rooftop party.

L&I had been holding Post Brothers' event permit for a month, prompting Matt Pestronk, co-owner of Post Brothers Apartments to state, “If they don’t give it to us, it’s because they’re corrupt.”

The permit came through and the event went on as planned, along with the standard protesters with their mold mannequins and "Do Not Rent Here" signs. Post Brothers couldn't have hired better actors to work their party on the street. Many party attendees likely believed the protestors were just part of the show.

L&I made an appearance at the event just to make sure everything was on the up and up. You know, because L&I has been so dutiful in their response to complaints about shoddy construction sites.

When the party was over the party was over. The few union protesters left with their tails between their legs in defeat, off to drag their tired inflatable rat and worn rhetoric to the next site where developers now know they're not needed.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Penn's Landing 2.0

Photo: Bradley Maule
Tonight at seven the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation along with Alan Greenberger and PennDesign unveiled the next generation for Penn's Landing. Let's call it Penn's Landing 2.0. Or should we call it 40.0?

Can we really call it the "next generation" when the current planning phase has easily circled two?

Pardon me if I haven't soiled my pants in anticipation of Hargraves and Associates most recently commissioned wet dream of a re-envisioned Penn's Landing, but those in charge have been holding their annual circle jerk for the last forty years.

The renderings look great. They always do. They have for the past four decades.

But why is this any different?

It isn't.

Until the plans for Penn's Landing involve destination attractions that can offset pricy parks and interstate caps, the city and state will never approve the funds to improve its relationship with Center City.

Philadelphians and tourists willingly walk the Ben Franklin Bridge and ferry to Camden every day. The reason is exclusively in its destination attractions. Until Philadelphia can match that, Penn's Landing will remain what it is.

Renaissance Plaza

The site of the proposed Philadelphia World Trade Center has seen yet another redesign, one that only loosely earns its "re."

Now dubbed Renaissance Plaza, the mixed use complex looks a lot like the 90s era proposal for Philadelphia's World Trade Center.

Philadelphia's World Trade Center proposal

Of course there's no question that this site should be developed. It's on Penn's Landing. At this point we should take anything. But the newness of its latest rendering is merely a stunted version of its previous rendering, one which looked a lot like the Trade Center proposal.

Why? As if it isn't bad enough that Carl Marx Real Estate is calling its isolated proposal Renaissance Plaza, a name that immediately conjures up images of Detroit's own urban island complex Renaissance Center, it's simply another incarnation of the Trade Center's bad, suburban design.

Initial, taller proposal for Renaissance Plaza

Carl Marx cut the 430 foot proposal in half and added more retail. But with Waterfront Square dominating the Northern Liberties skyline and SugarHouse fortressed from the street, why bother reducing the number of residents in Renaissance Plaza's towers, housing less residents to shop in its additional retail space?

Carl Marx's Most Recent proposal

Instead of accommodating more shoppers and less residents, Renaissance Plaza could better integrate into the lost fabric of Delaware Avenue's city scape.

It could easily be tall. There's no reason it can't be. But a more urban configuration, one that points towards Center City instead of away from it, could actually attract the customers it needs from its additional retailers from Old City and Northern Liberties.

Why no Halloween store at the Gallery?

Here's a question: with Halloween creeping upon us, knowing that South Philadelphia's Masquerade will soon be facing it's at-capacity one-in-one-out clientele, why hasn't the Gallery at Market East recruited a seasonal costume shop?

Sure, some of Burlington Coat Factory's sale items might qualify as costumes. But in a mall, a Halloween store brings seasonal foot traffic. At the Gallery, it brings in Philadelphians who thought the mall was closed and might think, "hey, I didn't know Aldo had a brand called Call It Spring, I'll have to come back here."

Of course this isn't solely up to PREIT, but those managing Market East's White Elephant missed a golden opportunity here. Even King of Prussia fields seasonal costume stores to fill its vacant shops.

JKR Partner's BridgeView

JKR Partners - Bridgeview
JKR Partners has drafted a plan for 75 townhouses on vacant land near Columbus Boulevard and Catharine Street. Dubbed Bridgeview, the respectfully scaled townhouses could help bring life to Penn's Landing and carry Queen Village residents to the water.

So far the renderings are preliminary and have been informally pitched to the Queen Village Neighbors Association, with a more formal presentation planned for the zoning board.

Henri David Ball

October is Gay History Month and, in Philadelphia, somewhat synonymously Halloween.

Other cities have their eccentric icons. Baltimore, obviously has John Waters with his pencil thin mustache and portfolio of dark comedies (to put it politely), every city in the South seems to have a pageant system of bawdy drag queens, and New York and Los Angeles are professional actors guilds of larger than life personalities.

Of course in Philadelphia, with our subdued sense of pride often bordering on the self deprecating, we never want to brag. Our characters are our characters. You can find them if you know where to look. At times that seems unfortunate, but it's not as if Philadelphians who don't mesh with our Colonial reputation are in any way hiding. Philadelphians tend to like being a well kept secret, but word-of-mouth keeps our festivals and parties exciting.

If you haven't figured out what I'm talking about yet, I'm talking about Henri David and his annual Henri David Ball.

Henri David is Philadelphia's John Waters, as if he needs a doppelganger. David isn't a director, actor, or drag queen. He's not a retailer, an event planner, or a party promoter.

Henri David is a presence. One who, despite his outrageous personas, you'll rarely encounter.

A jeweler for 40 years, David has a shop on 13th and Pine aptly called Halloween. With no sign, no display windows, not even a website, you've probably passed it a thousand times without a clue. David's Halloween, where he crafts his custom jewelry, is in an unassuming row house, and like the best things in Philadelphia, not on display. Halloween is by appointment only.

Don't let this fool you, David is no curmudgeon hiding from the public eye. For one night every year David has thrown one of the city's most lavish parties each Halloween since the late 60s. It's almost as if he spend the year saving up for the spectacle.

What started out as an excuse to wear his costumes turned into a local phenomenon, one which, had it taken place in Chicago or Seattle, would have likely morphed into a national event. But that's not Philadelphia. John Waters once told Henri David, "you have more freaks than I do. You do good here," and luckily for us, David has kept all the freaks for ourselves.

The 45th Henri David Ball will be held on October, 31st at the Sheraton Center City Hotel on 17th Street. Tickets are $25 to $60 and can be purchased at Halloween at 1329 Pine Street or by calling (215) 732-7711.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

iPic's Boyd Theater

A long fought preservation battle at The Boyd Theater near Rittenhouse Square may be coming to a close, with a pretty shitty compromise to history buffs. In The Boyd, Philadelphia has Center City's sole remaining historic movie palace. What's more shocking, this Art Deco masterpiece is nearly in tact and entirely usable.

iPic Theaters has pitched a proposal to tear down the luxurious and historic auditorium to build, well, what it calls a "luxury" auditorium.

Nice "luxurious" brick wall.

Sometimes I think that people who toss around words like "luxury" don't really understand what it means. To the tasteless cretins at Florida's iPic and the fat slobs cozying up to a 64oz soda at one of iPic's "successful" locations in - shocker - Scottsdale, Austin, and Phoenix, here's a tip: Philadelphia is not Scottsdale, Austin, or Phoenix. If you want to build that shit here, do it in New Jersey. Don't bulldoze Center City's one and only remaining, and functional, historic movie theater and then use the carcass to market yourself as iPic's Historic Boyd.

It's tacky.

Center City has room for one of iPic's theaters. There's plenty of vacant land, surface parking lots, and perfectly boring office buildings with room for a multiplex right around the corner.

Hello, Market East? Why The Boyd? Does iPic see itself as The Boyd's (misguided) salvation? Or do they view its marquee and prominence in historic circles as a jankey marketing ploy? Don't answer that, we all know the answer.

It's no surprise that a company from Florida knows nothing about Philadelphia's history or how we perceive it. But it seems as if a company that solely develops movie theaters knows absolutely nothing about cinematic history either.

The industry has changed, I understand that. Multiplexes are great things. Luxury multiplexes are even more amazing. Someday we may even be fighting to save The Bridge or The Pearl, both of which are beautiful works of modern architecture, someday as significant as The Boyd.

But single screen movie houses still serve a purpose as dollar theaters and boutique cinemas around the country that invented celluloid. The Boyd isn't just Philadelphia history, it's American history as important as anything on Society Hill.

Of course iPic will have no problem proving getting the Historic Commission to green light the demolition. Proving cost prohibitions to the commission has become as easy as getting free swag at the convention center: just show up.

It's a wonder Philadelphia even has an Historic Commission if its sole purpose isn't to protect the city's history. It's as if the consultants developers hire to prove their historic properties are lost causes are somehow...hired by the developers.

Wow, that seems fishy. I mean that's like hiring your brother to come to your personal injury suit to prove that your neck hurts. But that's exactly what iPic did. In fact, that's what every developer seeking a demolition permit does.

iPic themselves commissioned an EConsult report to prove that restoring the Boyd would cost between $41M and $44M. It's a far fetched notion based on little more than iPic's effort to prove it's damn expensive, but it's also complete bullshit.

$40M? I'll go to Home Depot and get some paint and spackle.

What does that $40M get you? If you wanted to show movies in the Boyd, you could simply open the door and tell people to bring a chair. Where's EConsult's estimate for a new screen, seats, and a fresh coat of paint?

EConsult's report for The Boyd's rehabilitation is an estimate for rebuilding The Boyd from the ground up. But more importantly, where is the Historic Commission's independent audit?

$40M is outrageous, on par with stabilizing the SS United States. Philadelphia's historical community, which perplexingly is in no way affiliated with the Historic Commission, has become so numb to these astronomical and subjective estimates that no one bothers to question these bloated claims.

Unfortunately, with no support for the commission charged with protecting the city's history, The Friends of the Boyd has had to tackle the preservation efforts with little more than a Facebook page and a website.

The Boyd is one of many examples of the commission's neglected duties, leaving every protected landmark in the hands of a few devoted volunteers who have to battle developers drafing their own cost prohibitions.

Neighborhood? What neighborhood?

When Pennsylvania decided to move forward with a convention center expansion tentatively planned since the 90s, a number if iconic and historic properties were lost. In the 1980s this neighborhood without a name was virtually indistinguishable from Callowhill to the north. Monolithic warehouses and turn of the century factories-turned-offices butted right up against Philadelphia's City Hall.

We've all heard what happened. 676 tore a chasm between Center City and Callowhill, a new Market East Station rendered the Reading Terminal headhouse irrelevant, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center eradicated what remained.

Of course there are countless ways this could have been done better. The PCC could have straddled the Expressway. It could have made its home somewhere in the wasteland of North Broad closer to Spring Garden. Reading Terminal could have been renovated instead of moved, incorporated into the convention center instead of being relocated underground, leaving the viaduct unused and unmanaged, and acres of surface parking too costly to cap.

I suppose we're lucky that the state decided to incorporate the headhouse and terminal into its convention facilities considering the city once toyed with the notion of tearing it down.

But the wounds of poor design have yet to heal. The convention center's northern façade, if you can even call it that, hovers over Race Street topped with unflattering utility equipment. It's windowless walls and sterile sidewalks point a middle finger at what's left of the neighborhood it destroyed, calling landhoarders to demolish what's left for parking. Parking that the center inexplicably wasn't required to provide for itself somewhere within its three block sarcophagus.

The first blows came at a time when few fought to preserve Center City, and those concerned citizens were busy fighting city planners from dropping the wrecking ball on their own neighborhoods at places like South Street and Chinatown. City Hall had an itchy trigger finger and to them, our historic architecture was synonymous with an era they wanted to forget.

Much of that attitude lingers on Market East and North Broad Street. It's easy to forget that politicians don't write for architecture blogs, and many of their citizens share the same blind eye toward our abandoned infrastructure. When most see an abandoned warehouse or factory, when they see the old Robinson's Department Store on Market Street, they don't ignore the grime and only see blight.

Comment sections and message boards are filled with the same rhetoric when it comes to the neighborhoods around the convention center, Market East, or North Broad, "bulldoze it all." Of course the assertion is ridiculous to anyone who remembers the fact that we already did, and the deplorable end result of our destruction is a city calling for more.

With the exception of several historic buildings on Arch Street, the nameless convention center neighborhood is as bland and unrecognizable as the center itself. The Metzger Building and Lithograph Building are gone. A Herculean feat was employed to demolish the massive Odd Fellows Building. Perhaps the most tragic loss was the Race Street Firehouse, historically significant in more ways than one. Its bizarre gargoyles were removed, put into storage, briefly fought over by several historic institutions before being as forgotten as the building itself. A few short years later, it's unclear where they ended up or if they're simply collecting dust somewhere.

It's almost fitting that the neighborhood's soul would be lost when the six creatures charged with warding off evil were removed and locked away.

Luckily the misdeeds of city planning have shown little interest in Callowhill and its organic development remains largely in the hands of private developers. Unlike Northern Liberties or Passyunk Square, Callowhill stands to be more than an island of self sustainment.

While many of the neighborhood's former industrial relics remain vacant or underutilized, its most iconic landmarks haven't met the wrecking ball of haphazard development.

Post Brothers Goldtex Apartment building is a large investment in not only Callowhill's community, but also stands to bridge a long lost gap between Center City and its neighborhood. With small, pricy units comparable to Rittenhouse or Washington Square, the endeavor is a risky one. But if it proves successful it will pave the way for other developers to tap the neighborhood's vacant land and unused warehouses, as well as ask why the blocks between Race and Vine aren't lined with restaurants, bars, and apartments.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Are the Feds Investigating L&I?

With the tragic collapse of 22nd and Market four months behind us and every civil lawyer in town pointing grieving families at the biggest pots of dough, nothing has gotten any simpler.

In the real world this would be complicated. But this is Philadelphia where complicated is the status quo.

City Hall has ruthlessly kept its own Licensing and Inspection department out of the equation despite the fact that the office was the sole governing body in charge of granting this permit and despite the fact that one of its own committed suicide in the days following the collapse.

In the wake of the chaos, those in the city scrambled to find a warm body to pin this on. They struck gold with crane operator, Sean Benschop, high on pot and prescription pills at the time of the collapse. Our own mayor's office went as far as to pronounce Benschop's guilt before a trial date had even been set, before any evidence had been presented.

It certainly paints a picture of a town when its top leader is the first to cast the stone of mob justice.

While the city's managed to keep its nose clean despite many in the media calling for L&I's head, the latest complications may be aimed at the city's mismanagement.

OSHA and the Federal Department Labor have subpoenaed documents from the site's architect, Plato Marinakos. Marinakos has officially pleaded the Fifth Amendment, which always sounds shady.

While everything that surrounds this project and investigation just reeks of shade, with the mayor's office and City Hall throwing everyone under the bus, can you really blame Marinakos for resisting the urge to incriminate himself on behalf of the city's mismanagement?

Think of it like this. Any documents Marinakos employed in the demolition site would have been approved by L&I before demolition began, L&I would have their own copies, copies that should have been reviewed both times a 311 call reported a violation.

Marinakos' has reason to be skeptical of any investigation in which the city plays a role, a city in bed with L&I. In this instance his Fifth Amendment right may have been executed to consult with lawyers before Nutter puts him on the chopping block in the middle of City Hall.

The city doesn't want to be involved. In fact, it can't afford to be involved.

If L&I finds itself as part of prosecutors' investigations, development in Philadelphia ceases. L&I grants every license and permit for demolition and construction in the city. If that department were to be investigated by any agency, all projects would come to a grinding halt until the investigation ends.

What's worse, if the investigation were to find any misdeeds on behalf of L&I at this or any other project - and if their reputation is any indicator, it likely would - it begs to question when every other project in the city would have the green light to resume.

Would every project approved by L&I need to be re-evaluated by an independent agency? Would previous projects need to be investigated? How long would that take?

It would be a nightmare for the city. Considering this potential scenario, City Hall's ruthless efforts to keep L&I out of the discussion at all costs starts to make sense, however unethical.

The request for Marinakos' documents wasn't made on behalf of the city, it was requested by Federal investigators. If the Feds are sniffing around, this could mean more trouble for the city than it means for Marinakos, Benschop, or any private defendant named in this whole tragedy.

OSHA and the Department of Labor know that the documents used in the demolition of 22nd and Market should be on file with L&I. In the wake of Marinakos' Fifth Amendment claim, couldn't they just pull the same files from the city?

Well, they likely already have, or have already discovered that L&I didn't file anything. If they're going straight to Marinakos for documents, they're not going after Marinakos. They're trying to find out who screwed up at L&I.