By Thomas J. Walsh
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. this week issued four request-for-proposal documents related to the Foxwoods Philadelphia casino development and the redevelopment of certain blocks of East Market Street near The Gallery.
The RFPs seek casino and retail architects, real estate and economic advisers, strategic planners and traffic study consultants for the “Convention Center/Market Street East area of Center City.”
PIDC is working with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the city Department of Commerce and the Redevelopment Authority of Philadelphia (RDA) in what is shaping up to be a major overhaul of the Market East commercial district, considered the “hole in the donut” of Center City revitalization efforts.
The solicitations were issued Wednesday, a day before City Council passed bills creating a “commercial entertainment district” (CED) classification for Center City and another to re-zone The Gallery itself, from its current C-5 commercial designation to CED. The legislation was met with plenty of public resistance. Plans to bring Foxwoods to The Gallery from its original intended location on the Delaware River waterfront have been vehemently protested by anti-casino activists and residents of Chinatown and other neighborhoods. (See Kellie Patrick Gates’ coverage here.)
The RFPs make plain that a redevelopment of the Market East district will likely have a casino.
“The City of Philadelphia is involved in planning and negotiating a mixed-use, public-private real estate transaction involving retail and, potentially, gaming uses in Center City Philadelphia,” the RFP for architects says. “To that end, the City wishes to retain a retail and casino architect to support and advise members of city government as they review proposals for a downtown casino in the City of Philadelphia.”
In its filing for real estate advisory services firms, PIDC says it is looking for consultants with experience in:
• Mixed-use retail, including downtown retail and mall development
• “Entertainment, gaming and leisure projects, including slot parlors”
• “Gaming-driven mixed-use retail development,” and
• “Complex public-private real estate development”
It is also evident that PIDC believes the timing of the work might be sooner rather than later – developers and consultants have been told that questions, or requests for more information, must submitted by 5 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 20). The RFPs state that PIDC “anticipates that the contract will have a term of one year, with the majority of work likely to occur during an intensive three- to six-month long period at the beginning of the engagement.”
Councilman Frank DiCicco, though, said the zoning change legislation was only the first stage of review processes with the Planning Commission and other agencies that will be ongoing through next spring, and that Foxwoods did not have a signed deal with the city.
The “strategic plan” RFP encompasses “land use, public space improvements, physical development and transportation in the Convention Center/Market Street East area of Center City Philadelphia. … The team shall include, at minimum, members with expertise in urban planning and design, architecture, historic preservation, landscape architecture, and cost estimating.”
The city will retain its own traffic planning consultant, assigned to work as part of the consultant team, to study the area “bounded by 5th Street on the east, Walnut Street on the south, 16th Street on the west and Callowhill Street on the north. The study area includes major commercial streets of the Central Business District, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and a significant portion of Chinatown. Though the study area does not formally extend north of Vine Street, the traffic study does need to identify implications for development there.”
Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District and the Central Philadelphia Development Corp., wrote recently about the casino proposal in the CCD’s newsletter. In detailed terms, Levy tried to place the idea of a casino in the context of this large area of Center City, noting that “it will be a 300,000 square-foot tenant … occupying three floors in a 1 million square-foot regional shopping center with scores of other tenants.”
But because the Commonwealth “clearly dealt us a mediocre hand with their slots-only restriction on Pennsylvania casinos,” Levy wrote, “PREIT [Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust], the owner of the mall, and Foxwoods have a special obligation to use the casino as an anchor that generates volumes of new customers who can support re-leasing the mall with entertainment, boutiques and destinations with broader appeal.”
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