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East Market project passes Civic Design Review with some small suggestions for change

Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2014 at 7:10am.

The Civic Design Review committee generally liked the East Market first-phase proposal...

By Gabriel Gottlieb

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission’s Civic Design Review (CDR) committee heard about plans for the soon-to-be-built East Market mixed-use project on Tuesday, October 7. The first phase of that project will include a 20-story, 366-unit apartment tower and 160,000 square feet of retail space along the entire south side of the 1100 block of Market Street, just above Washington Square West's Midtown Village-Gayborhood section. The developers will also renovate the former Family and Municipal Court building on 11th Street into 150,000 square feet of “cool” office space. The next phase is to include the construction of a high rise apartment tower on top of the northwest corner of the first phase.

Michael Prifti of BLT Architects made the presentation on behalf of the developers, National Real Estate Development. He described the project in detail and pointed out that the developers would like to continue the development onto Chestnut Street and renovate the historic Stephen Girard Building on 12th Street in later phases. The retail space will be on the first two levels along Market Street and will have large windows. One distinguishing feature of the façade is large advertising signs, which the developers are allowed to have because of a new ordinance passed in 2011 which allows such large advertising signs along several blocks of Market Street. These signs will extend 15 feet onto 11th and 12th streets and the exact look of the signage will depend on the tenants. The Planning Commission would need to review the signs.

...but had some concerns with the project's planned pedestrian promenades...

The design of East Market will be different from other developments on Market Street because there will be a pedestrian promenade, lined with honey locust trees, in the middle of the block leading to Ludlow Street. This promenade and Ludlow Street will be lined with smaller stores. The second level will have “mid-box" retail capacity, which is in demand in Center City. The future phases would extend the promenade to Chestnut Street. The façade of the whole development would have lots of gray panels and some glazed windows. All parking and the loading dock are underground. particular, the width of the sidewalks on Ludlow Street and the width of the midblock north-south pedestrian walkway.

After Priti's initial presentation, Matthew Pickering of the Planning Commission delivered staff comments. He mentioned that the site is zoned CMX-5, which allows high-density mixed-use projects such as East Market. He expressed concern about “pinch points” along the sidewalk, especially in the front at the stairway into the Market Street subway concourse. He pointed out that the promenade needs a minimum of 12 foot wide walkways and the sidewalk on Ludlow Street needs to be eight feet wide. The Planning Commission likes the retail on all sides, the underground parking, and the many entrances. The staff is concerned about the SEPTA stairs on Market Street blocking the view of the Reading Terminal Building from the promenade. During the committee discussion, members were concerned about too much shade on the promenade, the quality of the materials, the amount of parking and bike spaces, and lighting. A representative of the developer briefly mentioned that there would be 176 parking spaces, 406 bicycle storage spaces, 24 street-level bike racks, 16,000 square feet of green roofs, and six electric car charging stations in the garage. Committee member and architect Cecil Baker asked whether a larger promenade could be built to create a “sense of place."

After discussion, the committee voted to endorse these nine comments:

  1. A “visual cue” will draw people off Market Street and the promenade and Ludlow Street are appropriate for food and beverage businesses.
  2. The SEPTA stairwell should be modified to open up the view of the Reading Terminal building (the architect mentioned that talks are already ongoing with SEPTA for that)
  3. The trees along the promenade should not be too shady
  4. Security and lighting should be a concern, with much architectural lighting
  5. The Ludlow sidewalks should be wide enough for pedestrians
  6. Activate the western corner
  7. 11th and 12th streets should not be ignored in favor of the promenade and Ludlow Street in the design
  8. Be ambitious with sustainability and consider LEED certification
  9. Accept the Planning Commission staff findings

After voting to accept these comments, the committee voted to end the CDR process for this project. The developers held a groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 2 and actual demolition of the two-story Girard Square building, which the first phase will replace, should begin soon.

Renderings and drawings from BLT Architects via Philadelphia City Planning Commission

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