Thursday, June 12, 2014

Philadelphia's Game Changers

BizJournals reported on Center City's retail trend, and how it's ready to explode. The Neiman Marcus Last Call on the second floor of the Shops at Liberty Place turned out to be an unsubstantiated rumor. But Nordstrom Rack is scheduled to occupy the former Daffy's space at 17th and Chestnut while Forever 21, American Eagle, and Uniqlo will round out the blocks. Nearby, the Cheesecake Factory is under construction. And across Center City, 801 Market Street is being prepped for a Century 21 while Macy's could be expanding its furniture section.

The storefronts along Market East's Girard Square are advertising Going Out of Business sales, making way for NREA's East Market, a residential, retail, and entertainment complex that will span the block and link the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Midtown Village.

Kmart has closed, its escalators have been removed and stacked for maintenance. Everything from a Target to a high end grocer has been rumored for the space, but the mid-mall flagship may be divided to expand low volume retail. 

Game Changer

Brickstone Realty is currently demolishing several buildings on the 1100 block of Chestnut and is in an agreement to purchase more. This development will face the south side of NREA's massive project. Brickstone is also developing the Stantec Tower behind Lit Brothers which will introduce hundreds of residents into a colonnade of retail, entertainment, and office space that already extends all the way to 12th and Market.

Paul Levy was quoted in BizJournals stating, "we've crossed over the tipping point." That's great for retailers, particularly high end retailers that have been wondering when Philadelphia will finally arrive. It will provide tourists with an avenue to burn cash on their way to the Liberty Bell and conventioneers will have entertainment and restaurants at the door of their hotels.

But there was a cold functionality to what Market East was, and it's hard to tell if it is missed, if it will be replaced, and where. Namely, Kmart. Kmart left because of its own corporate struggles, but it served its purpose on Market East and to the thousands of Center City residents seeking the goods that can't be found without a car.

When the mercury inches towards 80 degrees, residents are going to start looking for new air conditioners and garden hoses. Items that can be carried home in a grocery cart, but not lugged back on a bus from South Philadelphia. The problem with the "tipping point" is that it tips in favor of a specific demographic. Will discount retailers revisit Center City, even Target? Or have these proposals solidified Center City's economy as a Manhattanized microcosm? 

Zip Cars and bike lanes are not answers to pedestrianization, and islands of economic homogeneity don't make good cities. Center City isn't cheap, but it's affordable. These changes will come fast, most notably on Market East, and it will attract residents that creep into affordable Washington Square West, South Street, and Chinatown neighborhood. Neighborhoods that have delicately maintained Center City's inadvertent uniqueness. 

These are game changers, and they're coming fast.

1 comment:

  1. The thing that set Manhattan apart from every other city in the country back when there were other financial centers, other fashion centers, other entertainment centers, etc... is Madison Square Garden and Penn Station. The "Garden" is the place where everything that is New York comes to life just when the city is at its most electric and vibrant... at night. It's where the outside world meets New York on a major stage and proves itself before New Yorkers. If it weren't for that stage and the others that have sprung up in Manhattan, we would not see New York the way we do. The Garden is where it all comes together at night, the same way Times Square and Penn Station is where it all comes together during the day. Madison Square Garden kept the buzz and entertainment aspect of New York going even after it stopped being "New York, New York".

    Center City doesn't have that. Sure, during the day it does, and it will especially once East Market and the Gallery redo are finished. At night though, there's life but you have to go explore in order to find it. When people drive over the bridge from Jersey or even walk over the Schuylkill bridges into Center City, they don't see that. They see the lit up buildings and the hidden life, not something that makes it obvious that something's going on.

    If you want to talk about a game-changer, really "the" game changer, it's putting a new arena for the Sixers at 10th/11th & Market. All of the major indoor concerts, the Sixers games, all of that (except for the Flyers) should be in the very center of it all. That is the one thing that at night will make anybody who even so much as drives by Center City recognize that something's going on there. That would be THE game changer, and the draw that takes everything going on in Center City and makes it explode. It would make Market East "the" entertainment destination of the metro and "the" tourist and nightlife area of the metro, and if the arena is surrounded by shops that front the street (basically putting the arena inside a complex where stores and maybe even a restaurant or two line the exterior minus some entrances for the arena itself) then there would be no negative effect and no "dead zone" effect. It would also be the ONLY place in the entire country where all of those things converge in one spot, not to mention the Convention Center, Reading Terminal, Chinatown, and Independence Mall/Old City all blocks away, of City Hall/Avenue of the Arts and western Center City just a few blocks more to the west.

    Market East was not meant for KMart. It was meant for discount retailers that had a personal touch and didn't feel like Anywhere USA. It was originally "the" center for everything from business to entertainment to shopping, and that's what it should be again.