Art Commission oks parking structure renovation, Frazier statue

A smaller group of commissioners than usual gathered for the year’s final Philadelphia Art Commission meeting on Wednesday to hear four cases, the most significant of which moves along plans to redesign a city-owned parking structure at 8th and Filbert streets.

Presenters from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, planning firm WRT, and structural engineers O’Donnell & Naccaratto detailed their efforts to turn the corner into one with a “sense of place and vitality.”

Tall orders and perhaps an overstatement, but with the promise of not only updating the pre-cast behemoth but improving a beat-up streetscape and a dreary retail scene, “anything would be better,” as commissioner Robert Roesch noted.

Briefly, plans call for first repairing the existing concrete then updating the structure’s facade with metal meshing and glass interventions. A new light installation for the underpass and renovations to the lobby and interiors are also part of the project.

Presenters were on hand mainly to address an encroachment that comes courtesy of the glass pieces that are being added to the existing bays. Engineers said these insertions need to project over the sidewalk to lighten the load on the aging concrete.

The plan received unanimous final approval, with signage to be reviewed by commission director William Burke and questions on a proposed living wall to be run by the absent José Almiñana, the landscape architect who serves as the Commission’s resident greening guy.

The other significant project reviewed today was the addition of a statue of boxer Joe Frazier to be installed outside Xfinity Live in South Philadelphia. Sculptor Stephen Layne was on hand with a model of the work, which features Frazier looking “noble but rugged,” slightly crouched in an iconic stance.

Roesch, a sculptor himself, praised the piece as “extraordinary,” but made a perceptive suggestion to help, literally, elevate the bronze. Instead of setting it on a standard box-like plinth, he said, why not borrow from the spheres found elsewhere in the setting (in planters, pavers, etc) and place the sculpture on a circular base? By picking up those rhythms, he said, the work would be activated and would better echo the dancing moves of Smokin’ Joe. The Commission granted its unanimous final approval to the design, but offered only conceptual approval for aspects pertaining to the piece’s inscription and lighting.

The Commission also reviewed changes made in response to its prior conceptual approval to a plan for a gym addition to Mastery Charter School, but other than pressing for more details on security concerns, offered no judgment. Designers will return once more to receive the final go-ahead.

The meeting ended with a brief look at proposed encroachments — several glass and aluminum marquees — for a new residential tower on a parking lot site at 3601 Market Street. The request received unanimous final approval.

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