Planning Commission staffer Laura Spina, a planner for Center City, presented the new Market East Plan. The idea is to focus on pedestrian-friendly “places instead of projects” and “putting the market back on Market Street.” One place that is a focal point is the Reading Terminal Market, which would be expanded from its current location to front on Market Street via the Headhouse.
“The irony is that while the district can boast of retail destinations like the Reading Terminal Market, the Gallery, and Chinatown, none of them have a meaningful presence on Market Street,” the report states, echoing Greenberger’s remarks from February.
If the plan succeeds with expanding the Reading Terminal Market (which is “bursting at the seams,” Spina said), it could well mean the Hard Rock Café, along with a large sports bar situated between it and the Reading Terminal, will be gone. “Existing leases also provide a window of opportunity to re-envision how the Headhouse is programmed,” the report says.
Spina said that the plan was presented to the board of directors for the Reading Terminal Market, and that they were “very excited” about the potential.
It would also mean that the underground concourse – the north end of the Market East train station – described as “presently a vast and oversized space” would also be open for food-oriented development, adjacent and-or below the expanded market, perhaps along the lines of the food court created beneath the Comcast tower (and adjacent to Suburban Station).
Plans for the Gallery and Gallery 2 are far-ranging, but basically involve opening up the mall to the street (doing away with the long “monolithic” walls to be seen there now), with possible office development atop the east side of Gallery 2.
“The question is, ‘What’s the trigger?’” Greenberger said. “The general consensus is that it’s the Gallery. That is the place that you have to make happen, make better.”
Up to 10 smaller-scale hotels are also part of the vision, complementing the larger hotels already in place near the Convention Center.
Though Market East is a bustling transit hub with invaluable infrastructure, the thinking is that much of the topside traffic – pedestrian as well as vehicular – is stymied by too many buses. So the plan proposes “eliminating the existing Greyhound Bus Terminal and integrating bus waiting and loading into a new multi-level facility that spans Filbert Street,” an all-weather connection for passengers that connects with the Gallery.
In addition, there would be a re-routing of 12 New Jersey Transit commuter bus lines, off of Market and onto Filbert Street. This would include converting certain blocks of Arch and Filbert street to two-way traffic – thus eliminating more than two-thirds of the westbound bus traffic during Market East’s peak hours, the report states.
The plan is controversial among some Chinatown residents, though none spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. It’s not, of course, as controversial as a potential casino at 8th and Market. And though the EE&K team might just be covering bases, a scenario that includes Foxwoods at Strawbridge’s is still part of the plan. The casino’s bus pick-up and drop-off area would be at an existing Parking Authority garage to the rear of the building.
“Just so we’re clear, the casino’s off the table,” said Greenberger. “What it does mean is that PREIT (the building’s owner, Pennsylvania Real Estate investment Trust) is free to pursue other opportunities.” Speaking of Chinatown
, the plan “also recognizes Chinatown’s latent potential for growth by providing opportunities for expansion toward Franklin Square and north of Vine Street.”
Near Franklin Square, several tracts of land are controlled by the city, which is trying to relocate the Roundhouse police headquarters. The plan proposes high-rise development in the area, something that’s proven successful in other cities’ Chinatowns, together with a community center, a school, and the anticipated re-opening of PATCO’s Franklin Square station.
Implementation for the short-term would consist of a new “Intermodal Transportation Facility;” new streetscapes for Market and 10th streets; a new Chinatown gateway at 10th; new street-oriented storefronts for The Gallery; new concourse-level retail; a “re-merchandising of the Reading Market Terminal; and an 8th Street garage redevelopment.
Longer-term city policy issues identiifying the plan are new hotel district policies; the relocation of New Jersey Transit buses; certain city land dispositions; the intermodal application; and incentives for retail and residential redevelopment along Chestnut, 10th and Market streets.
“Compliments on doing a very ambitious plan,” said Craig Schelter, the former planning chief and current leader of the Developers Workshop. “But once again, I heard no mention of costs, and no mention of a time frame or the possible involvement of private land owners.”
“You may not like the answer, but that is the next step,” Greenberger replied, adding that he’s had “extensive conversations with PREIT, Chinatown landowners and interests, Jefferson and the RDA – “all of whom have expressed interest but are not yet willing to open up their pocketbooks” at this early stage.
As for a timeline, “it’s kind of tough to lay out a timeline when you don’t know where the money’s coming from. Would you say that that’s a fair statement?” Greenberger said to Schelter.
“I understand Craig’s concern,” said Commissioner Natalia Olson-Urtecho. “Maybe at some point an economic analysis might be done as the next step.”
“If the plan is to get from zero to something done, there are multiple steps along the way,” Greenberger said. “This kind of plan is step 1. … We’re at the end of that first phase and the beginning of multiple secondary phases.”Reading Viaduct viable?
Spina concluded by saying there are two new, major plans being formulated. One is a feasibility study for the intermodal bus facility. The other is an economic impact study of the Reading Viaduct
– to determine what could be done with it, or if it should be demolished.
“I really want to see a big emphasis put on this,” said Olson-Urtecho, about the Viaduct. “Just because one neighborhood says it doesn’t want it ... I think it has a lot of value.”
“We have the ability to apply some consultant efforts” toward the Viaduct, Greenberger replied. Specifically, consulting on the economics of the thing – demolition costs versus redevelopment possibilities. He added that Planning has been approached by the Center City District about cooperation on the effort. Other business