Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Philadelphia's City on the River

If you've walked around Philadelphia's Central Business District lately, you've likely noticed something: Cranes and Construction.

Comcast's Innovation and Technology Center is already a skyscraper of concrete, and around the corner, 1919 Market is starting to take shape. 

Excavation is well underway for Chestnut Street's W Hotel, a luxurious companion to the Ritz Residences. Closer to Rittenhouse Square, the former site of the historic Boyd Theater will - like it or not - host its own tower. And just recently, Brandywine Realty Trust announced they'd be expanding 2100 Market - the Stock Exchange Building - for more offices and apartments. 

Once sparsely littered with the city's skyline defining skyscrapers, Philadelphia's Central Business District - our "downtown" if we had one - was the northeast's answer to downtown Los Angeles. It graced our postcards, but shut down promptly at 5pm on Friday.

New residents are changing that and they're bringing with them restaurants. Even more residents will spur shopping and entertainment venues that will make Philadelphia's "downtown" a true downtown, even if it took six decades to terraform the land. 

The wildest proposal is one that's been dreamt about since the demolition of Broad Street Station and its "Chinese Wall," one that would help bridge the gaps created by the station's remaining rail structures. 

Heading west along JFK Boulevard is a grand experience leading you towards our fabulous Art Deco 30th Street Station, or at least it should be. Unfortunately the experience abruptly ends when JFK turns into a highway at the corner of the Kennedy House. Developers and Philly-philes have long fantasized about capping the last remains of the Chinese Wall, rail lines that carry commuters between Suburban Station and 30th Street.

Philadelphia River City was one of the most ambitious proposals. However its 80s-era design was proposed in 2006, and all but the most hopeful were pretty certain it wouldn't go anywhere. In all likelihood it's good it didn't. We didn't need the space (and still don't, yet), and it's unusually isolated and dated design would have only served to further segregate the Central Business District by providing Philadelphia with it's own Detroit Renaissance Center.

Since 2006, no one has dared to propose bridging Logan and JFK with skyscrapers by straddling the SEPTA lines, but plans for something never died. About a year ago, PMC Property Group proposed a high-rise apartment building hugging JFK at the river, and two mid-rises on the other side of the tracks. 

While the proposal doesn't hide the rail lines, it does dilute the barrier and promise foot traffic on JFK. It also visually eliminates the disconnect between Logan and JFK by making the tracks incidental, and not the focus, at least at the river.

It's a good thing, and it might just happen. Earlier this month, PMC Property Group completed the purchase of four blocks between 20th Street and the river, four blocks that - if developed - would fill in part of the gaps between "downtown" and the river, and thusly 30th Street Station. 

With PMC's River Walk and other projects inching their way towards the Schuylkill from Center City, as well as University City's own booming skyline, Philadelphia is well on its way to being an architecturally dynamic city on the banks of the nation's #1 urban trail.

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