Philadelphia’s New Gem: A Stroll On The Schuylkill

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let New York gloat about completing the High Line. Philadelphia is about to debut a linear park that might be even more impressive: the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.

As wonderful as the High Line is, it merely allows people to wend their way through Manhattan a few stories above its bustling streets. When the latest segment of the Schuylkill Banks trail opens to the public Thursday, you’ll be able to walk on water, under the glittering gaze of the Center City skyline.

The new 15-foot-wide walkway dives into the river at Locust Street, and doesn’t crawl back onto dry land until it reaches the South Street Bridge, a joyous journey more than 2,000 feet long. Along the way, you’re borne over the water like Huck and Jim on their raft, simultaneously a part of the world and temporarily removed from it.

Big puffball canopies of trees sweep past. Trains rumble by, keeping time with your step. Cars whoosh along the expressway on the opposite bank. In the evening, as the lee shore fades to black and lights flicker on, the city can feel as distant as outer space. Cars and trains devolve into abstract streaks of color. Only the lapping river is a reminder that the solid earth remains nearby.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/home/20140928_Changing_Skyline__A_Stroll_on_the_Schuylkill.html#3zXOsHclp7lMEyYi.99

Turning Up The Lights On Gray Market St. East

English: Lit Brothers Department Store, 701-39...

English: Lit Brothers Department Store, 701-39 Market Street (block bounded by Market, 7th, Filbert, 8th Streets) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (33 buildings built between 1859 and 1918, unified by a brick & iron facade). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Times Square-ification of Market Street East in central Philadelphia is underway, and it is starting at one of the most treasured buildings on one of the most stubbornly seedy thoroughfares in Center City.

Construction scaffolding has begun its crawl up the cake-frosting-white facade of the former Lit Bros. department store, a century-old architectural wonder that will be home to the city’s first flashy, high-tech video billboard screens.

Over the next three months, crews will work to install stadiumlike, wraparound LED signs rising 14 feet above the roofline of both corners of the landmark structure on the 700 block of Market Street.

Officials hope to light up Lits for the first time on New Year’s Eve – the holiday synonymous with Times Square, the Manhattan billboard mecca whose mojo Market Street’s boosters and investors are hoping to mimic.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20140928_Video_screens_to_add_some_pop_to_street.html#pR6W1yWRRd3Al006.99

Attack On Gay Couple Prompts Outraged Citizens To Use Twitter To Try To Solve The Crime

English: Map of Philadelphia County highlighti...

English: Map of Philadelphia County highlighting Center City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The video Philadelphia police posted online represented a major break in a horrific case – capturing images of a group suspected in a vicious Center City attack on a gay couple.

The suspects in the video – a group of young men and women, laughing, smiling and dressed for a night out – had allegedly mocked two men walking near Rittenhouse Square before beating them badly, sending both to the hospital. One of the men was also robbed, police said.

Word spread, and within hours, people took to Twitter and the Internet, trawling through social media in an attempt to identify the men and women in the video and forwarding their findings to police.

As detectives in the case zeroed in on the suspects and fielded tips, the online effort to identify them became something of a crowdsourced investigation.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140918_Attack_on_gay_couple_prompts_outraged_citizens_to_use_Twitter_to_try_to_solve_the_crime.html#oEwr1taBqrS46zLg.99

Plans For Two Hotels At 15th & Chestnut Taking Shape

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Next week, developers will present their designs for the W and Element Hotels planned for 15th and Chestnut streets to the Center City Residents Association. The presentation is for information only: The planned project requires no zoning variances and can be built by right.

According to a description shared with PlanPhilly by an attorney working on the project, the hotels will have a total of 755 rooms. There will be 295 rooms in the four-star W Hotel, and 460 rooms in the three-star, extended-stay Element by Westin. The entire hotel operation will be managed by Starwood, a Connecticut-based hospitality company.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/Plans_for_two_hotels_at_15th_and_Chestnut_taking_shape.html#P5wsWYOKxqO3JmVS.99

Mormon Apartment Tower, Meetinghouse Complex Passes Design Review

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After reviewing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ plans for an apartment tower, townhouses, retail space, and a meetinghouse at 1601 Vine St., the city Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee advised the church to open a garden to the public, work with the Streets Department to improve traffic flow on adjacent Wood Street, and use a higher-grade material than blacktop in a public courtyard.

The committee then closed its review, with little information on the large amount of public art the church is required to provide.

CDR committee members, who met earlier this week, weren’t totally thrilled about that last bit.

“Whatever we decide here becomes the way future developers come before us,” said committee member Cecil Baker. “This is part of the public realm. When jobs get this large, it’s a very important part. This is a major, major opportunity, the likes of which come rarely.”

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/Mormon_apartment_tower_meetinghouse_complex_passes_design_review.html#GqLhlWDwGYvu5sA2.99

Homeownership In Philadelphia Tumbles, Report Says

The homeownership rate in Philadelphia declined sharply between 2000 and 2012, primarily as a consequence of the prolonged and sweeping real estate downturn that followed the bursting of the housing bubble in 2006-07, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Although Philadelphia’s homeownership rate remains high among the nation’s 30 largest cities, the 7.1 percentage-point drop in owner-occupied units – from 59.3 percent to 52.2 percent, or by 47,082 – was surpassed only by Phoenix, which suffered record foreclosures and price declines when the market swooned, the Pew study shows.

Stagnant incomes, rising home prices, and tight credit, all products of the recession, have cut into owner-occupied numbers, the study showed.

In addition, young professionals who once were the chief source of first-time buyers are either wary of homeownership or burdened by student-loan debt.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/classifieds/real_estate/20140710_Homeownership_in_Philadelphia_tumbles__report_says.html#PLLsApVZLecmI3H2.99

SEPTA Aims For Happier Riders, Unveils 5-Year Plan

SEPTA logo

SEPTA logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With increased state funding and stable ridership, SEPTA officials are unveiling a five-year plan to attract more riders, repair crumbling infrastructure, and improve customer satisfaction.

Having emerged from last year’s doomsday scenarios into a hopeful era of what SEPTA planners call “innovation, integration and renewal,” the officials on Tuesday outlined a blueprint for the future that will be presented to the agency’s board for approval in July.

Meeting with transit users and supporters at SEPTA’s Center City headquarters, Byron Comati, director of strategic planning, said legislative approval late last year of a $2.3 billion boost in statewide transportation funding allows SEPTA to plan more boldly.

By 2018, the additional state funding will mean a boost of about $400 million annually for SEPTA to repair bridges, buy new vehicles and upgrade stations and equipment.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/transportation/20140521_SEPTA_aims_for_happier_riders__unveils_5-year_plan.html#erJVxPXXeAuIyUU6.99

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Philadelphia’s Luxury Rental Market Is Booming

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The city’s for-sale housing market is experiencing fits and starts on a seemingly unending road to recovery. The luxury rental market, on the other hand, remains hot.

Yet another illustration of that comes Wednesday with the official opening of Dranoff Properties’ Southstar Lofts, an 85-unit, mid-rise rental project at Broad and South Streets that is heavier on one-bedrooms than the company’s fully leased 777 South Broad a few blocks away.

Developer Carl Dranoff considers the buildings complementary, and tenants at Southstar will get to use the roof deck at 777 and will share other amenities.

Rents will range from $1,595 to $3,395 a month, he said. About 63 percent of those leasing are singles in their 20s, and 35 percent list their occupation as medicine. Most earn $50,000 to $150,000, and 48 percent are moving from within six blocks.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20140427_Phila__luxury_rental_market_is_booming.html#jYw0YTP7lsBDLXES.99

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$60-$70 Million Chestnut Street Residential Development Set To Begin

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In what would transform a bedraggled slice of central Philadelphia, demolition crews are weeks away from dismantling nearly an entire side of the 1100 block of Chestnut Street, part of a $60 million to $70 million redevelopment tapping the soaring apartment market and surging appetites to shop and live east of Broad Street.

Zoning approvals and permits are in place, additional property was acquired as recently as Thursday, and a large section of sidewalk has been closed as lead development partner Brickstone Co. prepares to build a complex of loft-style apartments above towering, three-story retail spaces.

The development will stretch almost the length of the south side of Chestnut between 11th and 12th Streets, Brickstone managing partner John J. Connors said.

Connors would not discuss what tenants are being courted, but the project could include a supermarket if rumors swirling among civic activist circles are true.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20140425__60-_70_million_Chestnut_Street_residential_development_set_to_begin.html#oF4zBbpGx4j9dij1.99

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Center City Philadelphia Showing Signs Of Weakness

English: Comcast Tower, tallest building in Ph...

English: Comcast Tower, tallest building in Philadelphia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Center City, Philadelphia’s engine for growth for the last decade or more, is showing signs of distress, according to statistics compiled by the Center City District for its annual “State of Center City” report.

From office rental rates to visits to tourist attractions and the number of major conventions on the horizon, a variety of measures of the health of the city’s core suggest it might not be quite as vibrant as hoped.

For instance, while Center City’s population inches higher, office rental rates run stubbornly below national averages, an indication of a city’s weakness in attracting new employers.

Employment in health care and education – the city’s biggest job creators – has been flattening and, in the first time in a decade, declined in 2013.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20140423_Some_concerns_as_it_regards_Center_City_s_growth.html#wfR2CIQSqRKdLfKs.99

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Elevated Park On Rail Viaduct Finally Firming Up In Philly

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neighborhood volunteers first began cultivating the idea of converting the ruins of the Reading Viaduct into Philadelphia’s own elevated park more than a decade ago.

After years of organizing, raising money, and drafting proposals, their efforts – and those of the politicians and professional planners who joined the cause – finally appear ready to bear fruit. Without fanfare, the city and the state have included millions of dollars in their latest budgets toward the first phase of the project: transforming the quarter-mile railroad “spur” that curves through the city’s burgeoning Loft District and dead-ends onto North Broad Street.

Turning that section into a park with stunning Center City views is just a small part of the overall vision to “green” abandoned railroad infrastructure, transforming foreboding eyesores into amenities.

A larger, 4/5-mile section of the viaduct stretches with fortresslike walls from Fairmount Avenue to Vine Street. Across Broad, the old railroad line drops below street level, running through a subterranean channel from the former Inquirer and Daily News building to Fairmount Park at Girard Avenue.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140406_Elevated_park_on_rail_viaduct_finally_firming_up.html#Uh2WhMLXCYwVcP2B.99

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Changing Skyline: Parking Garages Threaten To Wall Off Schuylkill’s East Bank

English: This is my own work, Public Domain Ph...

English: This is my own work, Public Domain Photograph, not copyrighted Ed Yakovich http://www.flickr.com/photos/10396190@N04 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Philadelphia spent the last decade working out a single, knotty planning problem: How should the old industrial spaces on the Delaware waterfront evolve? The consensus was that vacant land would be developed to resemble the rest of the city, with walkable streets, a mix of uses, and lively ground floors. No one was naive enough to think such projects could be realized without parking garages, but the expectation was that the structures would not dominate the river.

It’s a shame the conversation was never extended to the city’s other riverfront, the Schuylkill, which has come alive since a trail park pushed into Center City.

Like the Delaware, the Schuylkill is dotted with tracts of empty land crying out for housing, offices, and retail. But while little new has been built on the city’s big river – save for the suburban-style SugarHouse Casino – the Schuylkill is now sizzling with likely projects.

Predictably, each of the three proposals would front the river with a large, unsightly garage. They range from One Riverside’s modest, one-story garage at Locust Street to NP International’s multilevel, mega-development at Cherry Street. If built as designed, they would turn the bustling Schuylkill waterfront into Philadelphia’s own Great Wall of Parking.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/home/20140328_Changing_Skyline__Parking_garages_threaten_to_wall_off_Schuylkill_s_east_bank.html#FYw7GIe2AssxRvpe.99

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How Does LDS Church Finance A $70M Temple?

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along the two blocks of North 17th Street on either side of the Vine Street Expressway in Center City, remarkably different financial trajectories of two religious groups are playing out.

At the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, south of Vine, church leaders are turning property accumulated over generations – such as cemeteries – into cash in a bid to fill huge financial gaps.

About a block north, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans this week to build a meetinghouse and a 32-story residential tower next door to its $70 million temple, already under construction. The apartment tower alone could cost $75 million to $90 million, a real estate expert said.

Where do the Mormons get the money?

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/20140214_Two_churches__different_financial_trajectories.html#rE4QE48B2I9s6zuS.99

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Mormons To Build 32-Story Tower Near Center City

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mormon Church plans to build a 32-story apartment tower and a public meetinghouse on a vacant lot next to the Vine Street Expressway, filling in a key piece of the no-man’s-land that has long separated Center City and North Philadelphia’s rebounding neighborhoods.

The private development by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls for 258 apartments, 13 townhouses, and retail shops at 16th and Vine Streets.

The meetinghouse will have a chapel, courtyard, multipurpose space, and a center to research genealogy, said Michael Marcheschi, senior real estate manager for the church’s national special projects department.

The development, announced Wednesday by Mayor Nutter and church officials, will stand next to the Mormon temple under construction on Vine Street and set for completion in 2016.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20140213_Mormons_to_build_32-story_tower_in_Center_City.html#xda8G1b8kTLrO4VA.99

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King Of Prussia Rail Project Public Meeting / Open House – January 30th!

SEPTA logo

SEPTA logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SEPTA has scheduled a Public Meeting/Open House for the King of Prussia Rail Project. The King of Prussia Rail Project will evaluate various alternative alignments to make the connection to the NHSL and destinations in King of Prussia.

Date: Thursday, January 30, 2014
Time: 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. (Open House) | 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Presentations)
Location: Radisson Hotel at Valley Forge – South Ballroom 1160 First Avenue, King of Prussia, PA 19406

Meeting attendees should use the hotel entrance to reach the South Ballroom.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) welcomes your interest and participation in the King of Prussia Rail Project. Early in fall 2012, SEPTA initiated this study to evaluate an extension of the Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) to the King of Prussia area. The NHSL currently provides service between the 69th Street Transportation Center and Norristown Transportation Center, serving the Main Line area in Delaware and Montgomery Counties, and connecting to Center City Philadelphia. While the transit system is expansive, a rail connection to the King of Prussia area is missing.

The project will evaluate various alignments to provide increased transit service to the King of Prussia area. The project need stems from deficiencies in area transit services that result in long travel times, delays due to roadway congestion, and transfers between services. In addition, there are many destinations in the King of Prussia/Valley Forge area that are underserved or currently not served by public transit.

SEPTA invites you to participate in the project development process and provide input.

Website: http://www.kingofprussiarail.com/

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Construction Of Philly’s Mormon Temple Without Caffeine, Smoking, Swearing

It’s been two years since ground was broken in Center City on a massive Mormon temple and visitors’ center, and it might just be one of the more remarkable construction sites in recent city history.

Let’s just say the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) goes by its own rules — not those typically found in local union handbooks. And it makes sure those rules are enforced.

No smoking. No coffee. No swearing.

Praying optional — but encouraged.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/business/Construction_of_Phillys_Mormon_Temple_without_caffeine_smoking_swearing.html#BeIx151RoqqI1YFX.99

N.J. Company Seeks Philly Headquarters (Update)

(Is Hill leaving to avoid getting squeezed out? See Update below) Hill International, the multinational construction consulting company, is seeking a new headquarters location in Center City Philadelphia, David Richter, the 4,000-person company’s president and chief operating officer, tells me. “It’s easier to hire people, and there are better buildings and a better labor pool” downtown, compared to the company’s longtime base in Marlton, N.J., he added.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-phillydeals/NJ-company-seeks-Philly-headquarters.html#mZfkhdzqLY2rAgYU.99

A Hard Look At The Future Of Chinatowns

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Philadelphia County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People who stroll through Chinatown on Saturday nights bathe in the lights of intriguing new restaurants, hip tea shops, and stylish lounges.

But moving beneath that shiny exterior, as strong and powerful as an underground river, is a torrent of forces that threaten the neighborhood’s very existence.

An influx of luxury housing, rising rents and land values, a soaring white population, and slipping Asian population could mean the end of Chinatown’s 140-year role as a gateway for immigrants and a regional hub for culture and family.

That’s the conclusion of a new study by a civil rights and education group that examined two decades of property and demographic records in the three big eastern Chinatowns – New York’s, Boston’s, and Philadelphia’s.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20131111_A_hard_look_at_the_future_of_Chinatowns.html#ra7F8e0Rev0gffuc.99

Changing Skyline: For A West Schuylkill Site, Time To Bridge Its Moat

English: 30th Street Station In Philadelphia. ...

English: 30th Street Station In Philadelphia. Roughly speaking, the center of commuting in Philly, the former center of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Philly’s main Amtrak station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note:  There are some really exciting projects going on in Philadelphia as of late.

To hear the champions of Philadelphia’s university district tell it, the west bank of the Schuylkill is poised to give Center City’s skyline a run for its money.

Last week, Brandywine Realty Trust announced plans for its third riverfront skyscraper, a sharply faceted, 47-story office-and-apartment tower at 30th and Walnut Streets. West Philadelphia office space now commands higher rents than the aging behemoths in the city’s legacy downtown. Such is the clamor to live close to the big campuses that at least five residential high-rises are in the works.

It’s nice to see the city’s skyline stretching west. But a clutch of shimmering skyscrapers do not a neighborhood make.

Overlooked in all the hoopla over Brandywine’s latest project, FMC Tower at Cira Centre South, are the conditions on the ground. The site is cut off from the Schuylkill waterfront by a large, triangular moat, which looks down on the train tracks that feed into 30th Street Station and is one of several barriers that make walking there an unpleasant, and often hair-raising, experience.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/home/20131108_Changing_Skyline__For_a_West_Schuylkill__time_to_bridge_its_moat.html#4677tKeG0ScuYbfb.99