Why Fashion District will open in revamped Gallery mall with space for ‘co-creating’

William Toms, left, and David Silver announce plans to build a 10,000-square-foot space in Fashion District Philadelphia. (Bruno Guerreiro/REC Philly)

William Toms, left, and David Silver announce plans to build a 10,000-square-foot space in Fashion District Philadelphia. (Bruno Guerreiro/REC Philly)

This article originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

The Gallery mall will reopen in Center City this fall after four years of construction, rebranded as a shopping complex called “The Fashion District.”

The rebuilt mall will eventually sport new shops, a movie theater and an entertainment complex. But it will also bring hundreds of creative professionals and entrepreneurs to a new 10,000 square feet of coworking space, called REC Philly. That fusion –– a mall makeover paired with workspace –– could set a trend in a country where thousands of traditional retail outlets and shopping complexes have shuttered.

REC Philly co-founder Will Toms said he didn’t expect to end up in a downtown mall when he was looking to expand his company, which had outgrown a North Philadelphia warehouse.

But the location was just too good to pass up.

“It makes a ton of sense to get that accessibility, also knowing that every transit line in the city runs through that corridor,” he said. “It was just an ideal partnership.”

The new facility will feature recording studios, 3D printers and, of course, office space for 3,000 members in the heart of the city. And while the location inside a refurbished mall complex is unconventional, it was also a selling point.

Toms said he prefers the term “co-creating space” for REC Philly which targets artisans, photographers or musicians looking for affordable and flexible workspace. So, the location comes with a storefront inside the mall where members can sell their wares.

He said members will also be walking distance from the new amenities in the Fashion District itself.

“We’re going back to the concept of the mall as a third space,” he said. “Where people can have access to all kinds of places to spend time outside of work or outside of home.”

Les Haggett, a real estate broker with CBRE, said REC Philly will be one of the first developments of its kind in the United States. He pointed to Google’s takeover of offices at Los Angeles’ rebuilt Westside Pavilion as a kind of precursor. But he was confident that it wouldn’t be the last.

He said the national collapse of traditional retail, driven in part by the rise of online shopping, has coincided with the explosive demand for coworking spaces.

“We recently passed one million square feet of coworking space in Philadelphia…And vacancy rates have largely kept up with that demand,” he said. “But it’s very hard to find large office spaces in buildings that haven’t already been leased by a competitor.”

Pairing the two uses had a symbiotic effect. REC Philly gets a large format space in a central location. The Fashion District gets hundreds of on-site workers that can provide a built-in customer base for new shops and dining while filling space leftover from the heyday traditional retail.

“The coworking model really helps drive foot traffic and facilitate activity in the whole development,” Haggett said.

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