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.
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.