With skyscrapers sprouting up around University City, luxury apartments planned along the Vine Street corridor, and warehouses being converted throughout the Center City's adjacent neighborhoods, the same ambitious investment has avoided the city's core Market East neighborhood. High land costs coupled with low rent potential have made Market East a risky endeavor for decades, particularly on a major thoroughfare that demands big construction.
The National Real Estate Advisors of Washington has taken note, planning what it calls East Market at the Girard Trust Block between 11th and 12th, the former Snellenberg's Department Store. If all goes well NREA will be demolishing the Snellenberg stump as early as July. In its place would be a skyscraping mixed use complex incorporating luxury apartments, retail, office space, and underground parking. The Snellenburg warehouse on 11th Street would be stripped and refaced and the grand Girard Building on 12th Street would be restored, converted into apartments of office space with ground floor retail.
It's all too easy to look at the Gallery at Market East and ask, does the struggling Market East need more retail when what it has is an epic failure? But the Gallery's woes are not solely its own responsibility, and even if they are, the solution to the Gallery's lackluster existence won't be solved by the Gallery's owners.
What NREA's East Market brings is what the Gallery always lacked, and why Liberty Place succeeds as an urban indoor mall and the Gallery struggles. East Market won't just be a suburban mall in the middle of the city, it will be street friendly and include the office and residential components that make Liberty Place a sane place to shop and grab lunch. The Gallery was built to support two large office towers that never materialized, leaving it a massive train station that hosted the kind of craptastic shopping you expect to find in an urban regional rail station.
East Market will finally offer the competitive challenge its neighbors have always needed. If East Market succeeds (given Center City's growth and Midtown Village's expansion, it will) its residents will beg more of Market East, NREA's retail will ultimately reach capacity, and new vendors seek out nearby property to set up shop: The Gallery.
Of course Philadelphians are nothing if not skeptical, but the $500M project is backed by Washington and New York developers who seem eager to start. In a few short years Market East may be less synonymous with downtown Detroit and more like Center City's answer to King of Prussia, only better.