In the coming weeks we will be spotlighting the Central District Plan and giving you a seek peek at the draft. The draft of the plan will be released in March for comments and then, hopefully, adopted in June. Transportation upgrades, green Infrastructure projects, improvements around Franklin Square and North Broad Street are just a sampling of the topics and geographic areas that will be highlighted. So stay tuned.
This week we will focus the attention to the area around City Hall, particularly our thoughts on how the public realm can be improved to create a better destination and user experience in Philadelphia’s Civic Center.
The Civic Center possesses a plethora of public gathering spaces. Some are successful but in need of refurbishment such as LOVE Park and some have long been considered underperforming – we’re looking at you Reyburn Plaza/MSB Plaza/Thomas Paine Plaza or whatever you’re calling yourself these days. These spaces represent our civic center; they are places we collectively use and visit whether we are just passing through to catch a train home, queuing at LOVE Park to order lunch from the food trucks, gathering on the apron of Penn Center to view and judge the Mummers parade, or play popular board games with the giant game pieces on Reyburn Plaza. Ok, maybe not the last one – the pieces don’t move, we’ve tried.
Although these spaces are located in proximity to one another there lacks a certain unity between them. The cross street connections are sometimes torturous, there is little consistency in the detailing and materials and there is at times a duplication of programs. The primary reason for choosing this area as a focus is that we feel these pieces can be assembled and coordinated in a way that creates a unified public asset. It’s a “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” type thing.
As part of the recommendations we have assembled we will be highlighting three big ideas intended on having a transformative effect on the area. Here’s a preview:
1. Reyburn Plaza – The plaza does not function as a desirable public destination. Yes it works as a stage to showcase a piece of ‘60s architecture, yes if provides a roof for the L&I offices underneath – but that’s about it. We have tossed around a number of ideas, including selling the Plaza for private development, possibly a convention center hotel. Problem is, the site presents so many obstacles below grade including tunneling for the Broad Street subway and the SEPTA commuter line that resulting construction costs may make it less attractive to developers than we initially suspected. Our energies focused on creating a better frontage to Broad Street and generating activity that would enliven the plaza space. We propose a pavilion-styled structure along the eastern edge of the plaza constructed to accommodate retail and/or restaurants. These active fronts would create a better interface with the smaller more defined and better ornamented plaza space. This would also make the walk along Broad Street so much more appealing than seeing the large, blank wall that is there now. Partnerships for the construction and operation may be the mechanism to realizing this idea, similar to what was accomplished at Sister Cities Plaza.
2. Activate City Hall Courtyard – The western side of City Hall, Dilworth Plaza, is getting a major upgrade due for delivery in 2014. A grand SEPTA headhouse, a café, a very cool water feature, and ICESKATING are the major features that will sure to be a draw for area workers, residents and visitors. But what about the rest of the block? What about the courtyard? It’s one of the most visually unique spaces and it’s a comfortable escape from the traffic noise generated from Broad and Market Streets just beyond the portal halls.
Our ideas for the courtyard include new paving that reflects the same quality of materials as the building itself, movable seating and tables that can be positioned in response to shade and sun patterns, and restored portal gates that replace the existing chain link barriers. We will also put out the idea of adding a privately managed TKTS-style kiosk within the courtyard as a one-stop venue for the purchasing of tickets to a multitude of concerts, performances, art venues and museums throughout the Central District. The venue and the location seem like the perfect link connecting the Avenue of the Arts North and South and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
3. Penn Center – We consider this space as our utility player, able to accommodate a number of uses and programs. Because this space is different from the two above – it is not city owned property – we treaded lightly on the amount of significant interventions proposed. A high-end restaurant within one of the office buildings in the shadow of City Hall tower, a seasonal farmers market, and dedicated food truck parking could individually or collectively share space at Penn Center activating the plaza throughout the day and evening. That’s not saying we don’t have ambitious plans – how about a central bike station equipped with secured parking, maintenance stations and showers similar to the one in Millennium Park in Chicago?
Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we unveil other ideas. . .