New plaza caps a 10-year effort to reignite a struggling corner of downtown Philly

Jefferson Plaza is part of the block-long East Market development near City Hall.

New public space on a city corner.

Jefferson Plaza at East Market is a 12,000-square-foot public space, part of the East Market redevelpment project. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia has a new public space.

Jefferson Plaza now sits at the corner of 12th and Chestnut Streets, adjacent to the forthcoming Honickman Center, a 19-story medical building part of Jefferson Health’s Center City campus.

The plaza can be accessed on Chestnut Street, but is also located off Chestnut Walk. The new pedestrian-only corridor cuts through East Market, the $1 billion mixed-use redevelopment that runs between Market and Chestnut Streets, from 11th to 12th streets.

The opening of Jefferson Plaza and Chestnut Walk effectively marks the end of a decade-long effort to transform this four-acre square of Center City — and the blocks beyond it.

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“From the beginning, we dreamt of creating a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to revitalize the blocks just east of City Hall,” said Daniel Killinger, president of National Development during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.

Launched in 2014, East Market comprises six interconnected parcels. Some of the projects were built from the ground up. Others are the result of adaptive reuse and traditional renovation.

The Honickman Center, slated for completion in early 2024, will serve as an outpatient care facility. The $762 million development is Jefferson Health’s largest investment in the institution’s history.

East Market also includes a pair of modern apartment towers containing more than 560 units with ground-floor retail; an office building constructed inside a former warehouse; and a boutique hotel that sits inside a renovated office building.

Portuguese visual artist Diogo Machado (second from left) created ”CRADLE,” a mural commissioned for Jefferson Plaza in collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia. Mushado is joined by (from left) Joseph Cacchione of Thomas Jefferson University, Jane Golden of Mural Arts, Daniel Killinger of National Real Estate Development, Patricia Wellenbach of Thomas Jefferson University, and Jeffrey Kanne of National Real Estate Advisors. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“Each of these separate buildings really reinforce each other in a really unique way. And they remind us that successful cities are not built out of one employment sector or another employment sector, but an ensemble of all of those different sectors coming together around one place,” said Paul Levy, president of the Center City District.

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The East Market development sits across the street from the Fashion District Mall, a third of which could be torn down to make way for a new basketball arena for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Amid considerable opposition from Chinatown residents and businesses, the team behind the proposal — dubbed 76 Place — is pitching the project as an economic engine that, like East Market, will help reignite a set of languishing blocks that surround it.

The proposal would include a roughly 18,500-seat arena, but also street-level restaurants and retail and a pedestrian concourse.

“All of that will happen on non-game days as well. And so that life and energy that Market East so desperately needs,” David Adelman, chairman of 76 DevCorp, said during a recent interview.

The Sixers want to move into the new arena in 2031, the same year the team’s lease is up at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

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