The Gallery at Market East awaits $325 million makeover [photos]

If you haven’t heard, The Gallery at Market East is now poised for a top-to-bottom transformation thanks to a tentative agreement between the city and the mall’s owner, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.

For people who see the decades-old mall as a retail relic, the prospect of a multi-million dollar makeover is welcome news.

Sitting on a bench right outside The Gallery, Shuana Still described The Gallery’s aesthetics as “disco.”

“It needs to come into the modern era,” she said.

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Andrew Morettini, who grabs a coffee most days at a small Starbucks near the food court, had another adjective for the decrepit space: depressing.

“Right now, there’s not that much foot traffic. So they need to attract people one way or the other. I think re-imaging this place will do that,” he said.

Others, though, are not as thrilled about the proposed changes.

For some, it’s about nostalgia. They’ve shopped at The Gallery since they were kids and are simply used to and, in some cases, attached to the way it looks now. It’s gritty, but it’s familiar.

But there are also deeper concerns that working class shoppers won’t have a home in the re-done mall.

“It would be good for the environment, maybe to make it more uppity, but let’s keep it real, a lot of the people here are more minorities and people who don’t have that much money,” said Emily Pena.

“It’s basically going to be for the people in the suburbs,” added Francis McDaniel.

The $325 million proposal will completely gut the 1.5 million square foot facility with hopes of offering a brighter, more inviting space along what’s now a largely dead, three-block stretch of Market Street.

Plans call for The Gallery to be re-branded as the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia and become home to roughly 125 new retail stores featuring both “luxury” and “traditional mall retail.”

Restaurants, sidewalk cafes and entertainment options are also part of the picture.

Executives with PREIT, who is partnering with the California-based Macerich Company, are perhaps most excited about what’s planned for the entrance at 9th and Market.

If the project is approved, the sunken, stepped plaza that exists there today will be replaced by a glass-walled Center Court that will be even with the sidewalk.

“We believe that the proposed redevelopment will position The Gallery as the next great urban marketplace in the United States,” said PREIT CEO Joseph Coradino.

For city officials, the project is a chance to not only revamp the urban mall, but improve what’s seen as a critical stretch between Old City and City Hall.

“[The Gallery] was really a barrier to the street. People went in. You didn’t see them, you didn’t see the activity that was in there and so the street really suffered,” said Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger.

The city is prepared to chip in $113 million. To date, the state has committed $15.5 million, though PREIT has requested an additional $20 million.

If approved, construction is slated to start this summer and last two years.

The project will first need to get past City Council and the School Reform Commission.


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