Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Billboards: Philadelphia's Next Skyscrapers

Brown Hill Development has commissioned some exciting architecture and preserved just as much. The Ayer, Old City 108, and the Porter House in Manhattan are part of a portfolio that blends restoration, adaptive reuse, and exciting architecture.

Unfortunately 205 Race Street, a project dating to 2006, went from exciting, to okay, to meh. 

What happened? Were the nefarious tactics of Old City's uncompromising NIMBYs at play, casting assertions of shadows from buildings that cast shadows? At times, yes. At one point in the project's near decade long process, the Old City Civic Association criticized any zoning measures that would allow a mid rise at 2nd and Race. But the most poisonous thorn came from an unlikely source, one inexplicably accommodated: Keystone Outdoor Advertising. 

Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger even noted an excuse for the concession, stating last year, “It’s easy for anybody to take ZBA matters to court...especially for an owner of outdoor advertising, who spend a lot of money taking people to court and jamming up projects forever.”

The most recent iteration for 205 Race Street has been redesigned to accommodate the Zoning Code but also the grievances aired by Keystone, setting a precedent to accommodate billboard advertising in the approval process that builds our city. 

In a city rigidly opposed to digital signage and billboards - a city that turned the corporate name "Bandit Signs" into household pejorative - it's disheartening to see the city and a developer bend to the threat of litigation despite what a move means for the future of unsightly advertising in Center City.

Will Philadelphia's next skyscraper be a poorly maintained billboard advertising low rate mortgages or hair removal? As absurd as it sounds, extending advertisers the same air rights as developers opens the topic for legitimate debate.

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