Up-Market East

Market East has puzzled planners, city officials, and the Center City District for years. The Gallery is a fortress-like taste of suburbia that adds little to the street environment, yet has great transit assets. Beyond Reading Terminal, the expanded Convention Center has discount retail at its front door.

And overall, despite several efforts to chart a different course for Market East, not much has changed.

But this year, there are signs that the tide seems to be turning.

Market East is going Times Square, with Philadelphia Media Network set to move to 8th and Market (sweetened by a $2.9 million city loan) and the area’s designation as a “Commercial Advertising District” [pdf] will allow buildings to be plastered with ads that finance upgrades. That leaves Citypaper’s Daniel Denvir wondering about the fate of Market East’s small-time stores that have held down the district for years as retailers for “working-class, black Center City”.

Turns out, lots of the small business owners would welcome redevelopment of Market East. Denvir writes: Although no one has asked for their opinion, many small businesses do want a more high-end Market East.

Darryl King, manager of the two-story Sound of Market record store, summed up his feelings about the district in one word: “Dismal. It’s the plight you’re seeing in a lot of cities,” he said.

Throughout Philadelphia, developers perceive the city’s widespread poverty as an obstacle to upmarket development. But sensitivity to race and class rarely make it into the developer’s lexicon. Can Target (rumored for Girard Square) coexist with Sound of Market? Or will the whole complexion change?

Center City District’s Paul Levy pointed the Citypaper to Reading Terminal Market as “proof that well-managed retail centers can serve people of all incomes and backgrounds.” Or will the market become strong enough to materially change Market East for real this time. Some Market East retailers told Citypaper that their rental agreements had become month-to-month, and they expect eviction.

I’m left wondering if there isnt’ enough empty retail space surrounding Market East to absorb the retailers that are told to move along in the name of redevelopment. Perhaps along the yawning emptiness that is most of Chestnut East?

Read the whole story here: Big East: Redevelopment plans could gentrify Market East, long Philly’s poor, black downtown [Daniel Denvir, Citypaper, December 8, 2011]

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