Look at that skyline! Look at the cranes and construction! And get a load of that barge. You know what that barge means? Progress, that’s what. Construction of the Schuylkill Boardwalk continues apace, inching us closer to the glorious day when riding your bike south of Locust Street along the river will not mean slamming into a fence or hurling oneself into the chilly waters of the river. Instead, you will fly out over the water where you will be able to take in a view that few have ever seen before (unless you spend lots of time on boats on the lower Schuylkill). We don’t know if you like watching construction as much as we do, but if you’re bored, you should head over to the south street bridge someday and check it out.
Elsewhere on the interwebs, lots of interesting snippets to cheer for:
This project relates to our West Park District Plan, which recognizes the importance of the zoo and surrounding area as a gateway into the city and more specifically the Centennial District. In that plan, recommendations include targeting the highly visible vacant properties on adjacent blocks of Girard Avenue through negotiations with property owners to either acquire the parcels, get them to sheriff’s sale, or otherwise put them in the hands of someone who can do something with them (that’s WP 38, aka the 38th recommendation in the West Park plan, FYI). Knitting together the zoo with where the rest of the Centennial District picks up in earnest at 40th/Girard/Parkside is an important physical and psychological rift to overcome. Also, we of course love the train station idea, and the gradual upgrading of the regional rail system so that it could one day function more like rapid transit within the city. with frequent enough service and appropriately sited stations, regional rail can become just as viable for commuting and getting around between neighborhoods in Philadelphia as buses or subways. You can see this in action at Temple University or Wayne Junction Regional Rail Stations, where enough lines pass through to provide high-frequency service. This is why folks are building mixed-use TOD projects next to both of these stations (Paseo Verde and Nicetown Court, respectively).
I know what you’re thinking: She’s just not that into you, it just isn’t going to happen. We’ve heard big announcements about urban-friendly Targets anchoring new development on the Girard Block since 2010, but so far, nothing. We passed the signage legislation to encourage redevelopment and flashy signs, and so far, nothing. And we’ve watched as the best laid projects (the PSFS conversion, the Reading Terminal Headhouse, the Marriott, etc) have gotten us a few steps farther but still not to a place where we would EVER show an out of town friend the walk from the Liberty Bell to City Hall if our lives depended on it (we’ve actually more or less perfected the art of walking routes that seem like whimsical, unplanned meanderings from Old City to the Parkway that are in fact incredibly intentional diversions from the boulevard of broken dreams we like to call Market east…maybe we’ll map them and share them sometime if you’ve ever wondered how to negotiate that gracefully with tourists…but we digress).
But it’s not like the city hasn’t been working on it. We did a strategic plan for the area, full of great ideas, in 2009. We’ve done streetscape improvements. And we did get the signage bill into play to provide developers with another tool to make the numbers work. We also put the whole area into the “Super CMX-5″ mapped area in Center City where CMX-5 parcels get even more base and bonus FAR (we’re not going to explain any of that cause we’ve written about them before…go back and review if need be…). AND Amtrak is talking a big game about an epic HSR station deep under Market East that’s going to cost like 8 bajillion dollars. Point is, people are interested, people are talking, people are doing.
But THIS WEEK, we heard something that, for our money, is more promising, more tantalizing, more real than anything we’ve heard before, and that was Ms. Kostelni’s PBJ article linked above. It was an innocuous headline as headlines go, fairly easy to gloss over: one development entity acquiring a building from another. But. BUT. This is a really important step for the oft-discussed Gallery makeover, because the devil’s in the details, details that to the laymen seem, well, unimportant, or maybe even insane. For example: there’s been a tremendous amount of time and energy directed towards figuring out who owns what over there. We really don’t have time to go into it, but between SEPTA, the city, PREIT, and the PRA, ownership of the Gallery’s concourses, stores, walls, air rights, floors…it was all cray. Sounds simple enough to work out right? “We want this project to happen, so why don’t you just take ownership of the whole thing and get it done, k?”, you might picture one entity saying to another. but it isn’t that simple and that’s why lawyers exist and so that’s been a whole situation. And this Vornado-owning-901-market is yet another tricky piece to that. SO, with Vornado relinquishing said section and the public and private sectors having worked out other ownership issues, we really do seem poised to receive some good news. Specifically, that PREIT has full control of what they need to attract the necessary financing and/or tenants to get cracking on this $300 million dollar inversion of the Gallery. $300 million is a lot of money, even in the high-cost world of major public works and development projects (6 Dilworth Plazas, for example). With $300 million, we might be looking at a significant, nay dramatic, nay transformative overhaul of the Gallery into the street-activating, dynamic regional- and tourist-serving shopping and entertainment mecca we’ve always known it can and should be.
We’re really feeling good about this initial news on this particular Friday, but we know it’s possible we might get burned again. Here’s our wager: that we really will see more on this before 2012 ends. If we’re wrong, then we owe you something. Not sure what, but we will.