Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bridging the divide "is not just smart, it is inspired"

Skyline shot courtesy of VisitPhilly.com

What "divide" am I referring to?

The Schuylkill River waterfront of course, or the gap between Center City and University City. The quote above was borrowed from the article that produced this post, as I like to give credit where credit is due.

This may seem like a small issue compared to some of the other large ones Philadelphia is currently facing today: public education, competitive business taxes, aging infrastructure, etc. But ... sometimes the smallest issues are the ones most overlooked, and in turn, create the biggest opportunities for growth.

A recent article on Philly.com went into brief detail about the transformative idea to put a large, structural cap over the 30th Street rail yards. You know, the rail yards you see while flying down the expressway on I-76 East (on the right, where I-76 & I-676 meet). Yup, that big thing over there.

In my world, those same rail yards are considered prime real estate.

Before we get into more of the details, here are some stats on Philadelphia's 30th Street Station (which some local pols now refer to as William H. Gray III 30th Street Station):

- 3rd busiest Amtrak station in the US (behind NYC & DC)
- Over 10,000 passengers everyday
- 3 regional rail hubs (including access to Philadelphia International Airport)
- Walking distance to both Center City & University City

Now, some may say that spending all of that time, money, and effort on building new structures above an existing/busy area of approximately 175 acres would be a waste (especially with all of the other development opportunities that exist in Philadelphia today).

Please note, I would not be one of those naysayers; and here is why.

The 2 main reasons that Philadelphia is performing so well in 2016: 1) Center City, and 2) University City. The Navy Yard is a close 2nd, but UCity wins the prize.

So, if Center City & University City are the core of Philadelphia's economic growth and prosperity in 2016 and beyond, wouldn't it then make sense to hold accountable the land in that particular area to its highest and best use?

What I also like about this plan is that the rail yards would remain as-is, still carrying thousands of passengers every day between NYC & DC. The stakeholders involved (i.e. Drexel, SEPTA, Brandywine, etc) would be using the air-rights above the current infrastructure to see their vision through.

Some features include 3 walkways across the Schuylkill River (easily connecting thousands of daily pedestrians to both downtown areas), mixed-use buildings (i.e. offices, residences, etc), and new green space (i.e. parks, stormwater solutions, etc).

Not only would this project increase the surrounding property values due to its size and scope, but it would help connect Center City & University City in a more business/pedestrian-friendly way (e.g. those who commute and get around Philadelphia by foot, bike, skateboard, hoverboard, etc). Today, CC & UC almost seem like 2 separate downtowns.

For additional reading, here are 2 past blog posts that discuss 30th Street in further detail.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Which part of Greater Philadelphia could see as much as $1B in real estate appreciation?

KOP Rail Project | ConnectKOP.com

Yup, I said "B" as in Billion.

If you read the local news like I do, you may have guessed it already; or maybe you didn't, because you had one too many spiked egg nogs last weekend. No worries, it happens.

If you said King of Prussia, you nailed it!

So to paint a visual for all of you readers out there, the Top 3 areas I am referring to include King of Prussia, Gulph Mills, and Bridgeport. Please bear in mind that these 3 areas are based on my own professional opinion, and not that of the Philadelphia Business Journal. PBJ classified the prime area as "Upper Merion."

Now, I also believe that areas like Wayne, West Conshohocken, and Norristown will benefit from the rail line as well, but let's call them my Bottom 3 areas. Out of those 3, Norristown has the most to gain as it is currently in comeback mode.

The reason I specified those areas in particular, is because their combined location is solid (right in between KOP & Philadelphia). Add a rail line, and you've got a real estate investor/developer's dream.

If you take a few minutes to look at one of my past blog posts that discussed this same topic, and then compare a present-day Google Map with the proposed train route options, you will see the pattern I am seeing. Any area close enough to the new rail line will eventually see an increase in value (both residential and commercial), as this is the first time in history that King of Prussia will be connected directly to Center City Philadelphia by regional rail (Greater Philadelphia's 2 largest areas for employment and entertainment).

Remember, the #1 rule in real estate is "Location, Location, Location."

Even without a current rail line in place, there is a ton of development going in and around the King of Prussia area as we speak: 1) KOP mall expansion, 2) KOP Town Center, and 3) CHOP's outpatient facility. There are other small projects being built, as well as additional ones being discussed. If interested, you can read through a more in-depth report here.

The KOP rail project would not only provide a better quality of life for those who commute by car in between Philadelphia & King of Prussia everyday (I-76 East/West is basically a parking lot at rush hour), but it would also promote additional investment/development along its planned route.

Connecting KOP to PHL by rail, could create an additional $1B in real estate value when fully realized. Let's all watch to see if it gets approved sooner than later.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Based on "Top 10 Metro Areas," Philadelphia is ranked #2 for Affordability

Image courtesy of The Philadelphia Foundation

Interesting title, I know. This one can be looked at a few different ways, so let me elaborate a bit.

There is a difference between "Top 10 Cities" and "Top 10 Metro Areas." Top "city" means that the population of the city proper (within a city's borders) is what classifies its population. Here is a list of the top 10 cities by population in the US (according to Wikipedia):

1. New York, NY
2. Los Angeles, CA
3. Chicago, IL
4. Houston, TX
5. Philadelphia, PA
6. Phoenix, AZ
7. San Antonio, TX
8. San Diego, CA
9. Dallas, TX
10. San Jose, CA

Top "metro area" means that the population of the metropolitan statistical area (or MSA, which defines a "core" with an "adjacent territory that has a high degree of social and economic integration with the core") is what classifies its population. Here is a list of the top 10 metro areas by population in the US (again, according to Wikipedia):

1. New York - Newark - Jersey City
2. Los Angeles - Long Beach - Anaheim
3. Chicago - Naperville - Elgin
4. Dallas - Fort Worth - Arlington
5. Houston - The Woodlands - Sugar Land
6. Philadelphia - Camden - Wilmington
7. Washington - Arlington - Alexandria
8. Miami - Fort Lauderdale - West Palm Beach
9. Atlanta - Sandy Springs - Roswell
10. Boston - Cambridge - Newtown

So as you can see, there is a difference between a major city's population, and a major urban area's population; as noted in the 2 different lists above. Since every city/area has its own borders, tax laws, and rules, population sizes will vary; which is why it's always good to look at both when analyzing numbers/data.

Take Boston, for example. The city itself is ranked #24 by population (about 655,000 people), and the metro area is ranked #10 by population (about 4,750,000 people). So as you can see, there is a big difference between the population of "Boston" and the population of the "Boston Metro Area."

Okay, enough fact finding. Let's get down to business.

For purposes of the article that inspired this post, NerdWallet used "metro area" to calculate its numbers. In my opinion, that's a more valuable approach as it more closely looks at each different "area" in its entirety; not just within "city" limits.

This is where Philadelphia performs very well. When you look at our local MSA (Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington), Philadelphia's real estate market is affordable.

How affordable exactly? Well, out of the Top 10 largest MSAs, Philadelphia ranks #2 in affordability (just behind Atlanta, Sandy Springs, and Roswell) and #24 out of the top 100 US metro areas.

Considering Philadelphia is the 5th largest city in the US, and the 6th largest metro area in the US, that's pretty d*mn good.

Why, you may ask? Because it means that Philadelphia has a lot to offer its local residents as a major US city/area, while keeping its home ownership cost low. Since owning a home is typically the largest expense any person/couple/family carries on a monthly basis, this bodes well for those who live in/around Philadelphia.

To top it off, this study doesn't account for location; and you all know I love to talk about Philadelphia's convenient US location.

So to summarize my own opinions/thoughts, Philadelphia is an affordable urban area to own a home and a convenient urban area to live in. In my profession, those are the 2 most important reasons why people choose to buy real estate.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

One of the most common real estate questions out there: What exactly is a REALTOR?

For more great info, check out: Realtor.org, Realtor.com, + PARealtor.org

Welp, folks, I decided to go the educational route with this post, because real estate is becoming a hot topic at the dinner table once again (... and at the water cooler, the coffee machine, the food truck, the dry cleaner, the barbershop, you name it).

If you are a regular PUL.com reader, you know that I typically like to discuss development, local happenings, and all things Philadelphia and its Suburban Towns. Let's mix it up a bit, shall we.

What makes this post interesting is that most people throw around the term "Realtor" as if it were the only word to describe a person who has a career in real estate. I would say about 9 out of 10 times when people refer to my occupation, they say Realtor. Even though I am a Realtor and proud to be one, there is more to it.

While there is truth in saying that a licensed real estate agent can be a Realtor, not every licensed real estate agent is, or has to be, a Realtor. It's an option, a choice, and a specific way to run an agent's own business. After all, most real estate agents are considered self-employed "Independent Contractors," which basically means that most agents can run their businesses any which way they want to; which can be both good and bad.

To start this post off right, let's first define what it means to be a REALTOR (as per Realtor.org):

"The term REALTOR has one, and only one, meaning. REALTOR is a federally registered collective membership mark which identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS and subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics."

So, going back to one of my earlier points, being a Realtor is a licensed real estate agent's choice. It means he/she has taken extra steps to make himself/herself a more accountable licensed agent by subscribing to approved ethical practices. In other words, he/she is agreeing to provide a higher level of customer service through honesty and integrity. Now, there are also real estate "brokerages" that mandate their agents become Realtor members, but that is a choice the brokerage made to ensure that the Code of Ethics is strictly adhered to.

Okay, now let's break this post down PUL.com-style:

- "The Internet has drastically changed the real estate industry ... for the better."

My professional opinion is that the last 5 years have drastically changed the real estate industry ... and for the better. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones have become real estate buyers and sellers' best friends, and rightfully so. They have educated the general public about how real estate works, as more customer information is now readily available with just a basic online search.

Seriously, how easy is it to just Google real estate questions/terms on your phone; it's almost too easy these days. Now, not everything you read online is 100% accurate, but there are enough resources and industry professionals readily available to answer any questions you might have.

Again, a good thing.

- "The changing real estate industry has increased the need for a better customer service experience."

Absolutely. With all of the positive changes that have taken place in the real estate industry, it has increased the need for all real estate agents to deliver higher quality customer service to all of their clients. The real estate industry can carry with it a negative stereotype (believe me, I know; it's what I do), as well as stir up old war stories from your grandparents, parents, friends, neighbors, coworkers, pets (just kidding), etc.

One of the main reasons why, about 25% of all licensed real estate agents are considered "part-time," which means they already have a full-time job (which they are more proficient at than real estate) and real estate is used to supplement their income (let's call it a 2nd job). That also means real estate is not their strong suit, and that can affect the overall customer experience. If you select a real estate agent to "represent" you, I am assuming that most people would prefer to work with someone who is an expert in real estate; considering the importance of buying, selling, or renting a home.

In reality, about 20% of all licensed real estate agents make $100,000 or more per year, and the median annual income for a real estate agent is about $40,000. In the local Philadelphia market, that's about 6-7 closed transactions per year. $40,000 per year is nothing to sneeze at, the point is that a majority of licensed agents are not representing clients enough; it's a tough business to break into. If inexperience is the norm, it can lead to a less-than-perfect experience for the client.

Use technology to your advantage, and choose an agent that you believe would be the best fit for you. Oh, and make sure they are a Realtor too. You know, for good measure.

- "Although real estate may be an experience that most only go through once or twice in their entire lifetime, each experience should be just as good as the last."

Since most buyers and sellers go through a major real estate experience only one or two times in their entire lives, it's not a service you need on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis; which means it's easy to overlook the big picture. You buy a home, you get bad advice, you make mistakes, your closing is a mess, and you tell all of your friends and family what a stressful experience it was. In today's information-friendly age, it's very easy to pull up online reviews from people who did not like working with their real estate agent.

The traditional real estate approach was always, "Oh, Uncle Bobby has his real estate license? I'll work with him." Now the approach should be, "Does Uncle Bobby practice real estate for a living? I'll call/email/text and ask him a few questions first."

Buying or selling a home is one of the most important (if not the most important) transaction of peoples lives. More times than not, it's the most expensive thing you will buy/sell, it holds the most weight over how you live your life, and it requires the most serious commitment from those who choose to become homeowners.

Bottom line, there is a lot at stake in real estate. Therefore, you should expect to have a solid real estate experience and work with not only a Realtor, but with a Realtor who has produced many happy clients in the past. Run a basic online search first, it's the smart thing to do.

I hope this post was educational, and my goal is to post more like it in the future.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Market East "is building this," and Market East "is improving that." Wait ... Market West?

Vintage shot of West Market Street, Circa 1925 | Courtesy of PlanPhilly.com

That's right, you heard me correctly. Market West is becoming a hot topic within Philadelphia's development community.

But it's difficult to say what it could/will look like in the near'ish future.

Over on Market East, projects have already been approved, money is in place, and shovels are in the ground. In other words, there is already a level of certainty that change is happening, and that it's all positive development (e.g. East Market, Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia, 11th/12th + Chestnut, etc). Plus, we pretty much know what these projects are going to look like when they're completed; which is comforting.

As for Market West, first of all, who the h*ll even refers to Market Street between City Hall and 30th Street Station as Market West? Well, I guess I just did ... and others are too.

Some call it "The Business District," some call it "Downtown," and some call it "Rittenhouse" or "Logan Square." Personally, I've always just called it Center City, but today Center City has been split into so many specific pieces/parts due to popular neighborhood names (e.g. Fitler Square, Midtown Village, etc), additions to what is now "considered" Center City (e.g. Fairmount, Graduate Hospital, etc), and the complete separate identity of the ever-growing eds/meds capital of Philadelphia, University City.

So needless to say, you have to be careful with your Philadelphia-neighborhood-based assumptions these days. Otherwise, someone may try to bash you with their Internet muscles.

Over on West Market Street, a big portion of the street frontage has recently become a hot spot for large/proven developers (i.e. those who have a successful track record in Philadelphia, and financial resources to make something happen), who are buying up pieces of real estate as if it were a game of Monopoly: Hey, I just bought my first "color-group" from "the bank," and I want to start building "houses" and "hotels" (ha, what a great game).

But, why? What's the draw? What's the play?

Well for starters, a lot of it was owned by one guy/group/company: Richard Basciano. That name may sound familiar, as it was one his properties that collapsed unexpectedly at 22nd & Market in June 2013. My condolences to anyone/everyone who had a loved one there that day.

Also, Richard has been "speculating" on that long stretch of Philadelphia road for decades, which means he bought low and is now selling high. If you have not read recently, 2015 is a great time to be selling large pieces of Center City real estate.

Finally, large parcels are very hard to come by in Center City these days. Not only for a reasonable price, but just to buy in general. Now that Richard is a willing seller, developers are starting to see this as a great opportunity to close the gap between City Hall and University City. Connecting the two with large anchor projects, which could also spur a building frenzy for smaller projects.

Welp, there you have it. My professional take on one of Philadelphia's next big development zones. More blog posts will follow, as soon as more news comes out.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Are we experiencing Philadelphia's biggest development boom in almost 50 years?

Fantastic shot courtesy of BillyPenn.com

In my professional opinion ... maybe. Since I've only been alive since '79, it's kind of hard for me to say.

Here is what I will say. No matter how experienced you are as an agent, no matter how long you have been selling Philadelphia real estate, it's very difficult for anyone to give a straight answer to that question or predict the future of the local market.

But ... when you have someone who is as experienced and credible as Alan Greenberger (Philadelphia's current Deputy Mayor for Economic Development & Director of Commerce) say that he has not seen a boom like this since '74 (the year he moved from NYC to PHL), you know that something unique is currently happening in the City of Brotherly Love.

So, how is 2015 any different than the last real estate wave that ended in 2008? The answer, global awareness of Philadelphia's affordability and accessibility.

As I have stated in the past, Philadelphia is not one of the most affordable cities in the US, but we are one of the largest and most affordable cities in the "Northeastern" US. On top of that, we are a Top US global gateway metro, with our neighbor NYC being the largest. "The Northeast" is the most economically developed, densely populated, and culturally diverse region in the entire US. There is more urbanized land than any other part of the country, and we also enjoy large amounts of forest-use/green space (about 60% in total, which is about twice the US average). From just Pennsylvania to Maine, the area is home to over 55M people.

When you are located right in between the Financial Capital of the US (NYC, which in 2014 was also named the "World's Leading Financial Centre") and the Political Capital of the US (DC, or course), you are guaranteed to receive some attention. Now that Philadelphia has really begun to come into its own, with Center City, University City, and the Navy Yard all leading the charge, the world now has its eyes on us.

And when they get here, they will realize just how affordable and accessible Philadelphia really is!

Based on the city's size, as well as the size of the surrounding suburban metro area, you can get almost anywhere using a form of public transportation (i.e. train, subway, or bus). Now that Uber has entered the Philadelphia transportation market, it's even easier. This is due to the metro area's compactness, which is a product of density and smart planning over the last 300+ years.

Okay, back to Greenberger.

This article states that he sees the current real estate boom in Philadelphia continuing for the next 5-10 years, although maybe not at the same pace throughout that entire time frame. There are still many highly accessible areas in both North/South Philadelphia that have yet to be touched by redevelopment/reimagination from the millennial generation, as these are the folks that are making cities like Philadelphia great again.

Just like the Market-Frankford Line has redefined neighborhoods like Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and Kensington, the Broad Street Line has the same potential.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 5-10 years, and if Greenberger's prediction is right. Either way, it's a very exciting time to be living in Philadelphia.

Monday, July 27, 2015

More positive news for North Broad Street

Image courtesy of KiraWeinstein.com

If you have ever tried to drive from Northern Liberties to Fairmount in Philadelphia, you know that the streets just north of City Hall can be busy. What's up, Spring Garden! When I have to make that particular journey, I take Callowhill St from N 2nd St to N 20th St.

It's an easy cut-through, you should try it sometime.

On my way to Fairmount, I always get caught at the traffic light at N Broad St & Callowhill St; it's almost inevitable. If you know this intersection, then you already know that there are 2 parking lots on the southeast and southwest corners. Not parking garages, surface parking lots. This puts you about 1/2 mile north of City Hall in Center City, Philadelphia.

In 2015, those 2 lots are prime real estate. Believe it.

North Broad St has come into its own over the past few years, meaning that developers are finally starting to consider large anchor projects along the northern stretch of this famed Philadelphia boulevard. This is in part due to the resurgence of neighborhoods like Fairmount and Northern Liberties, as well as all of the new development now surrounding Temple University.

I've blogged about other North Broad developments over the past few years. Here, here, here, and here. Today, I am sharing another exciting article about North Broad development ... here.

There is a lot going on in Philadelphia these days. Some say it's just the start of something great (I typically fall within that crowd), and others believe it's the beginning of the next real estate bubble (I can see some logic on that side as well).

As for me, I tend to look at real estate in 2 very simple ways: 1) Renting, and 2) Buying. If you do not buy real estate, you are a renter; unless you happen to have a super-cool family that supports your housing needs, and you in turn are okay with that arrangement for the rest of your life. But if you do not rent real estate, you are a buyer.

"Renting" and "Buying" both relate to the theory of supply/demand in real estate. When renting is up, buying is down; and vice versa.

That's why renting has become so expensive over the past few years. Buying was slow following 2008, and remained slow for the years that followed. Rentals have been performing well since 2008, and this is what has caused rental rates to rise in Philadelphia. But buying has become a more viable opportunity today, and the momentum is now shifting.

Because I personally look at all markets as "Rent vs. Buy," it's easy to make correlations on how a certain city and/or metro area is performing.

In 2015, many markets offer buying opportunities that are less expensive than their rental counterparts. But now that most US metro areas are considered "Sellers' Markets," with some metro areas already being sellers' markets for some time now, that may be changing sooner than we all want to believe.

In Philadelphia, renting is not cheap in 2015. Especially if you want to rent a home/apartment that is brand new. Popular neighborhoods in Center City and University City still remain expensive (think Rittenhouse, Old City, UPenn/Drexel area, etc), and popular neighborhoods in other parts of Philadelphia are not cheap either (think No Libs/Fishtown, Fairmount, Manayunk/Roxborough, etc).

But ... while Philadelphia currently has many expensive homes for sale, there are still many reasonably priced opportunities to be had as well; and they might just be right down the street from where you want to live!

North Broad is having a moment, and good things are happening around projects like this one.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tim Garrity talks about Philadelphia's "green space" in Metro Philadelphia

Check Metro out at: metro.us/philadelphia

I received an email recently from one of my online/print media contacts, Julia West.

Julia is a contributing writer for Metro Philadelphia, and asked me to help on one of her recent articles titled, "Homes on Rittenhouse Square are like 'beachfront property.'"

Our conversation focused on the following, "What kind of effect does 'green space' have on the real estate around it?" Whether it's a neighborhood park, local running/biking trails, tree-lined streets, etc.

We discussed this subject from a few different perspectives:

Have there been any local studies done on green space?

How does green space help the people who live around it?

How does green space improve Philadelphia's neighborhoods?

Since I had to be short and sweet, as there were a few other Philadelphia real estate agents being interviewed, I have included some of the thoughts that were shared with Julia:

1. Have there been any local studies done on green space?: I found one study through some online due diligence conducted by Wharton at UPenn in 2006, and it said that "Philadelphia homes in close proximity to new tree plantings showed a rise in valuation of 9%." Now, that's a very defined statement, but I believe it rings true in Philadelphia nonetheless. If a buyer is looking to purchase a home in a dense Philadelphia neighborhood, and they had to choose between a tree-less street or a tree-lined street, I'm sure you would agree with me that the buyer would most likely choose the tree-lined street. Please know that the home's location, price, size, and condition would all play important roles, but if block appearance and curb appeal were the most important factors, that's probably how it would play out. Since there are many blocks in Philadelphia where trees have been removed due to sidewalk issues and/or neighborhood neglect, I can see why new tree plantings help as much as they do.

2. How does green space help the people who live around it?: In my professional opinion, I feel that green space offers 3 major benefits to those who live around it: 1) Better quality of life, 2) Healthier residents through recreation, and 3) Stronger/Safer neighborhoods. Again, this is just my own opinion and not fact (as I did use the word "safer," which is a no-no for Realtors), but I feel there is some logic behind it. More green space can lead to a more-attractive neighborhood, accessible green space allows the neighborhood to use it more frequently, and if neighbors take care of their local green space on a regular basis it can lead to a more-involved/more-aware community (e.g. Rittenhouse Square, Franklin Square, Fitler Square, etc). Much of Philadelphia's green space is a shared resource, which means that healthy green space can become a desirable amenity.

3. How does green space improve Philadelphia's neighborhoods?: In a city like Philadelphia, which has many older/dense neighborhoods due to rowhousing, narrow blocks, and tight sidewalks, green space can make a neighborhood feel more inviting. Tree-lined streets, small parks, or even close access to Fairmount Park can make a big difference in peoples' lives. A more livable neighborhood, is a more desirable neighborhood; therefore, it can be perceived as a more valuable neighborhood from a real estate perspective.

I hope you found this information valuable, and I hope to contribute to future articles on Metro Philadelphia.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The "Live-Work-Play Vibe" in University City

Photo courtesy of Philly.com

The reason I have "Live-Work-Play Vibe" in quotes, is because it was not my wording; but that from this article with Stephen Tang, CEO of the Science Center.

Live-Work-Play has been a common theme in urban areas across the US for the last decade or so. It symbolizes a lifestyle where local residents can live in a great neighborhood, get to work easily, and go out for drinks/dinner/shopping in the same neighborhood as both their home and job. Basically, it means that you have more free time to enjoy your life, rather than commute a long way to work or drive a far distance for entertainment.

This is the lifestyle you get whether you live in Center City, University City, or any other dense Philadelphia neighborhood. It's a major reason why more people are choosing to live in cities today than in years past, and it's also why Philadelphia is doing so well as a desirable place to live. Our city is designed to support that kind of lifestyle (e.g. dense, vertical, walkable, etc), and the infrastructure is there to build on it even more.

Once you think about it, the suburban lifestyle was built on the opposite: get a single family house with a yard, create space between you and your neighbors, and then park in your driveway/garage so that you can easily drive to work, the supermarket, the mall, Walmart, Target, you name it. It's the complete opposite of the urban lifestyle.

Now to be honest and upfront, I personally do not feel that one is better than the other, as many different people have many different ideas/opinions on how to live their lives. I think there are pros and cons to both ways of life. Therefore, there is plenty of room for either lifestyle to exist in most large US metropolitan areas.

I have also helped both buyers and sellers in Philadelphia's city proper, as well as in suburban Philadelphia, so I understand both sides and why people choose one over the other. Lastly, I have lived in both environments myself.

Alright, back to UCity and the Science Center.

To put things in perspective, the Science Center today has 17 buildings across 17 acres of land. It is considered to be the "oldest and largest urban research park in the US," establishing itself in 1963. It currently employs 15,000 people, contributes almost $65M in tax revenue, and provides Philadelphia start-ups with the office and lab space they need to get their ideas off the ground.

In other words, the Science Center is a very large incubator.

If what you just read about SC isn't large and significant enough for you, the organization plans to double in size over the next 10 years. The plan is to partner up with Wexford Science + Technology, expand to 4M square feet of office/lab/residential/retail, re-imagine the former University City High School, and build on additional open parcels to increase the size of the current campus.


I know, I know. When things are good in real estate (as well as in the general economy) grand visions seem to emerge everyday. We will build this, it will be the best ever, and people will come to us.

This project is different, and it's planned around consistent/well-thought-out concepts: Philadelphia has many local universities and hospitals that can support this type of project, people around the world are just starting to discover how conveniently located Philadelphia actually is (to other major US markets, as well as its ease of access to the rest of the world), and Philadelphia is slowly becoming one of the top US hubs for the life sciences.

More information about the Science Center here, and more information about their growth plans here.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Gallery at Market East 2.0

Sweet artist image | Courtesy of PREIT

Maybe you have heard some of the recent chatter about reinventing The Gallery, and maybe you haven't. Either way, I hope to provide you all with some value in this post; which by the way, is my 300th Blog Post on PhillyUrbanLiving.com (hard to believe that one, folks).

Okay, a little Gallery history to start.

The Gallery at Market East was built in 1977, and was designed to be a suburban-esque solution for city residents, workers, and visitors. Cities were struggling back then, and suburban towns were booming; all across the US. People loved their malls (as many people still do today); it was also the prime shopping solution for every Greater Philadelphia suburban enclave. A good mall made your little town cool (e.g. King of Prussia, Willow Grove Park, etc).

With Center City's retail environment struggling to survive in the 70s and 80s, the City of Philadelphia made a huge attempt to bring suburban shoppers back downtown. Hence, they built a 4 story behemoth of an urban mall to compete with neighboring suburban areas, and so The Gallery was born.

Growing up in the suburbs, my parents used to take my 3 siblings and me into Center City every year for the Christmas Light Show (formerly known as Wanamaker's, now known as Macy's) and Dickens Village. We would all hop on the train in Jenkintown, and cruise down to Market East in 30+ minutes. Market East is located at the bottom of The Gallery, which back then was considered the "cool city mall" to us suburban folk. It was an awesome tradition, and one that I still continue to honor annually during the holiday season in Philadelphia.

Fast-forward almost 40 years from The Gallery's start, and look what has changed.

Center City's retail scene went from sluggish to dynamic, our restaurant/entertainment scene is now considered to be one of the finest in the US, and the population of people living downtown just keeps growing. So needless to say, The Gallery could use a fresh look that appeals to today's consumer; as it takes up a good amount of valuable downtown real estate.

So as to not build up any more suspense, The Gallery 2.0 wants to reinvent itself as the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia!


I'm not saying that this project won't be great, because it has already drawn the attention of Mario Batali + Joe Bastianich's Eataly (as a potential anchor restaurant), but the name could definitely use some work.

As for my own professional opinion, I believe the reinvention of The Gallery might be better suited as a mixed-use development rather than just a shopping/dining destination. By mixed-use, I mean it could have a retail component, an office component, and a residential component that take advantage of its location. The Gallery is located in one of the most convenient spots in all of Philadelphia, it has access to all forms of public transportation, and the Market East neighborhood is only going to get bigger and better in the years to come (Hello, East Market et al).

Don't get me wrong, outlet stores can be great. Higher end merchandise, lower end prices; but I think the name is a little weak.

How about a name that sounds more like...

Central Market

City Centre PHL

Market East Place

Please take these ideas with a grain of salt, as I'm just doing a bit of brainstorming here. I am by no means a retail expert.

Please also note that I am not displeased with the idea for Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia, I just think the parties involved (that includes you, City of Philadelphia) could put a little more thought into the long-term effect of a project this big and important to Philadelphia's urban core.

Will outlets be as popular as they are 10 years from now?

Will fashion still be the primary retail option at Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia 20 years from now?

These are some of the reasons why I feel the name should be revisited (even though I know "Fashion Outlets" is a brand unto itself, and part of the reason why it is being named as such). A name says a lot, and this development's name will hold quite a bit of weight for Center City in the years to come.

What are your thoughts?