Wednesday, June 8, 2011

City hoping for a Market rebound

By Jason Nark
"Planners, architects, politicians, bloggers and just about everyone else with an opinion seem to think that the jelly's been sucked out of the middle - at Market East - by bad planning, bad economies, bad retail and even some bad people who sometimes run amok in the much-maligned Gallery.
After being teased with casinos and Walt Disney, the city wants Market East to become a better version of what it believes it's always been - a mixed-use shopping district that caters to everyone.

The goal is to attract tourists from Independence Mall and the expanding Convention Center, along with city residents who've stayed away. The city's strategic plan for Market East, now almost two years old, calls for high-rises on Market Street where two-story buildings and parking lots now sit, drawing Chinatown and Washington Square West closer to Market, and transforming The Gallery's 1 million square feet into something more inviting from the street.

The sketch for a possible Girard Square transformation on Market Street between 11th and 12th looks as if it were designed by Apple: a glass box filled with white light and likely filled with all the things young professionals crave. So, why hasn't it been done yet? Why can't you walk through this building or a brand new Gallery today when the area's been stagnant for decades?

Stakeholders say that it's all about money. Rents on Market East, they claim, are approximately 30 to 40 percent less than New York City, but construction costs are on par with New York.
Soens said that the Girard Square building would cost approximately $100 million to complete. He claims that a large anchor store has already expressed interest in the top floor (the rumors are that it's Target), but that deal is contingent on a controversial signage/billboard bill that was approved by City Council's rules committee yesterday.
"The goal is not to create large-format signs," he said. "We're trying to create a little excitement and additional revenues for the developers."

The signage measure would require building owners to make at least $10 million of improvements to their properties to get the OK to install larger signs.
"It's not rocket science to know that this parking lot shouldn't be here - it's taking up valuable land," he said, pointing to a street-level lot at 8th and Market, also known as "The Disney Hole." (Disney's plans for an indoor amusement park at the site failed.)

The Goldenberg Group owns two acres on Market between 8th and 9th. Senior partner Robert W. Freedman said in a statement that the company is "continually analyzing retail, hotel, entertainment and office uses to sculpt a dynamic mixed-use project that will add vitality to Market Street East."

Even without flashy signs or the welcoming aisles of Target and Apple, Market East does work for the thousands of people who use its transportation hub daily, buy its electronics and jewelry, and grab some fast food in The Gallery's basement. It can work better, with everyone involved, and that's the hardest part."

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