Many of you know that the zoning code encourages or requires commercial uses on the ground floors of buildings in various zoning districts. As a blanket statement, mixing uses is a good thing, for reasons that we think most people reading this would be able to provide. Of course, we see with some frequency in Philadelphia those areas where there’s a zoning mismatch in either direction. The first scenario is high supply, low demand: neighborhoods with significant population decline or a loss in median income levels now have reduced spending power and cannot support as much commerce as it once could. The second is low supply, high demand: this often happens in areas where the population is growing, or new development has created a destination that draws lots of people. As an area becomes denser or more frequently frequented, we find that there’s a lack of retail options to meet consumer demand.
We bring this up because there’s been a lot of recent announcements about tenants signing leases for retail spaces in projects currently under development. In most cases, the conditions that make these projects viable in the first place (to finance and build, that is) indicate that there’s not going to be a lack of interest on the part of store and restaurant owners…though that pesky market can be hard to predict sometimes. We thought we’d do a little tour of recent and current developments, take our best guess, and ask to hear from you: what do you think will fill these spaces? What do you hope would fill them, or wish that they might have? Can you think of future developments that might change the tenant mix again? Read on, and let us know:
1) Chestnut Square: This building incorporates many of Drexel’s master plan-driven intentions to urbanize its campus. In this case, a new building wraps an old one to provide a city street wall, and not one, but TWO floors of retail. Recent announcements include some big names, including a second location of Rittenhouse’s Zama, a second Shake Shack, and a Joe coffee, straight from NYC.
What Else We Think We’ll See Here: Lots of student-friendly stuff, sort of like the Radian on steroids. Relatively cheap eats, caffeine, maybe smoothies. College kids love smoothies.
2) The Granary: This 9-story mid-rise is coming along nicely on Callowhill Street just east of the Barnes Foundation. This project redefines the scale for the Parkway-adjacent neighborhood, establishing a strong precedent for the kind of redevelopment that might one day take advantage of new BRT service…but more on the Central District Plan later. This building made waves last week with the announcement of another Vetri restaurant, this one serving up pizza and beer in a casual setting.
What Else We Think We’ll See Here: More mid-range options that fit the needs of museum goers as well as nearby residents. We’re not anticipating much that isn’t food and drink, but are willing to be surprised.
3) The Sansom: A similar scale to the Granary (and the same development team), this building features zero parking (appropriately so), and recently announced it would house a steak frites place out of DC called Medium Rare.
What Else We Think We’ll See Here: In this highly retailed area, this could go any number of directions. The constant mix of residents, hotel guests, office workers, and late revelers make the already eclectic Sansom Street retail scene possible. With more and more people living this close to market, we wonder if we might start to see things like hardware stores creep into this part of town.
4) 2116 Chestnut:This 34-story tower is topped out and well on its way to welcoming its first residents in the spring. The ground floor is coming together nicely and offers a single 9,000 square foot retail space.
What We Think We’ll See Here: Many mainstream retailers will still perceive this location to be too far off the beaten track to attract a national clothing chain or restaurant. It’s a lot of square feet for an upstart local restaurant. We’d guess small grocery or pharmacy if there weren’t several in all directions.
5) Southstar Lofts: After gaining approvals in 2012, this mid-rise TOD project just started digging at Broad and South. Broad Street’s a funny one: it’s really busy sometimes and quite quiet during others. Retail vacancies abound in nearby buildings despite continuous infill development in neighborhoods just blocks away. Might this project start to tie it all together? Or are we still lacking the density necessary to carry this amount of retail?
What We Think We’ll See Here: We’re gonna wimp out on this prediction and say we don’t know enough about the size and configuration of the retail space (and we don’t want to get up). South Street West has seen a slew of successful new commercial ventures in recent months, and we think this could tie into that.
6) Convention Center Garage: This project made some colorful choices with the framing of its retail spaces and the lighting of its vertical fabric…thingys. It’s setup for multiple retail frontages.
What We Think We’ll See Here: What we’d like is a conventioneer-oriented restaurant to take the whole darn thing. What we’re guessing is more likely, at least in the interim, is more convenience-oriented stuff. We welcome surprises.
We could play this game all day, cause there’s a remarkable amount of space coming online this year, but now we turn it over to you. What are the vacant retail spaces that haunt your dreams? What are the national tenants you’re dying to see open, and do you have the perfect spot for them? Let us know in the comments.