Monday, February 16, 2015

A New Building Boom

Is it 2005 again? We haven't seen any proposal as whacky as Winka Dubbeldam's Unknot Tower, but corporations are reaching new heights, and developers are treading into new neighborhoods.

Three are sure bets: Comcast's Innovation and Technology Center, University City's FMC Tower, and 1919 Market Street are all under construction. 

Comcast Innovation and Technology Center

But there are even more that seem on the brink of becoming reality. It appears that prep work has begun on the W Hotel at 15th and Chestnut, a hotel likely wishing it had started a bit sooner considering the upcoming Papal visit in 2015 and the 2016 Democratic National Convention. With that said, we can probably expect some more hotel proposals on par with the Hilton Home2 (prefabricated and quickly constructed) cropping up around the city.

Nonetheless, ample construction in the background of international news coverage will make Philadelphia look alive and every bit as relevant as any major American city. 

SLS International Hotel and Residences

NREA's East Market on the Girard Trust Block has cleared all but the world's largest 80s-era McDonald's roof for its mixed use complex that stands to redefine Market East. 

Along the Vine Street Expressway, private developers are bridging the gap between Center City and neighborhoods north in ways that caps and parks never could: by building tall and monumental. Chinatown's Eastern Tower is rumored to be ready for prep work within two months. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been working steadily on its Mormon Temple, begun work on its community center, and seems ready and able to begin their apartment tower at 1601 Vine Street any day. 

CHoP expansion

And those are just the buildings we know we'll probably see. There are a slew of others in various planning stages, some of them approved for construction. 

Carl Dranoff's SLS International Hotel and Residences would take South Broad Street to new heights and set a new bar for luxury living in Center City. Tom Scannapieco's luxury condo tower at 5th and Walnut would provide Independence Hall with an additional backdrop. Both have been approved.

Stantec's MIC Tower could be topping Lit Brother's new digital signage. CHoP has been clearing land along Schuylkill Avenue for its Grey's Ferry expansion next to the South Street Bridge.

1601 Vine Street

And all of that is roughly in and around Center City. University City itself is experiencing a renaissance it hasn't really seen since Penn and Drexel's westward expansion. This time they're building up and the result is starting to look a lot like Center City's twin. To a lesser extent the same can be said of North Broad and Temple University's vertical projects. Anchoring the opposite side of Broad Street, Bart Blatstein has some plans for Broad and Washington that could turn this long-vacant and should-be prominent intersection into a destination.

When I moved to Philadelphia more than ten years ago, it was the Philadelphia I remembered from my teens, one I hadn't seen since 1994. It was gritty, surreal, weird, and all those wonderful things that make the northeast a bizarrely epic place to live. It still is gritty, surreal, and weird. But coming from DC, watching the building boom of the early 21st Century was something I'd never seen before. DC is impressive, but stumpy. Philadelphia was visually exciting. And our recent boom seems like it's about to get even more exciting. 

FMC Tower

And luckily for us, new residents flocking to our city seem to be embracing Philadelphia for what it is, with or without shiny new skyscrapers. We haven't been terraformed as Brooklyn 2.0, we haven't been (completely) overrun with "Basics" sucking down bottomless mimosas on Sunday afternoon. Philadelphia is still weird, and not in the "Keep Portland Weird" campaign kind of weird. We're weird in the way Philadelphia was weird when a bunch of treasonous atheists declared independence from the most powerful nation in the western world 238 years ago. 

Eastern Tower

The 2015 building boom isn't the result of transplants transforming our city, it's the result of a city attracting transplants that are helping Philadelphia realize what it's always been: a Great City. And unlike the building boom a decade ago that aesthetically redefined the skylines of cities from Miami to Seattle, Philadelphia is doing it with purpose and homegrown spirit. 

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