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!

Meh.

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?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Welcome to Philadelphia's "New Boom"

Photo courtesy of Chris Sembrot | PhillyMag.com


Let's start this one off with a question.

What exactly was the "Old Boom?"

Well, pretty much everything during the last real estate wave and up until the real estate wave tumbled in 2008. Some refer to this time in history as the "real estate bubble" or "housing crash." It was a time when money was easy to come by, the mortgage/loan qualification process was extremely lenient, and almost anybody had the opportunity to buy a piece of real estate; just by trying. Needless to say, that approach caused some major problems for the US' housing industry.

Fast forward to today, 2015. The stock market is at an all-time high, the job market is decent (but wages/raises could be better), and real estate is now the subject of conversation again.

Should I buy a home?

Renting gives me so much flexibility.

What if I decide to relocate?

But before this moment in time hit, as many people never thought housing would come back as strong as it has (post-2008), investors and developers were planning for it. Land was cheap, construction costs were low, jobs were needed, and opportunities were present. This is why there is such a flurry of activity in Philadelphia today.

So, why call it a "New Boom?" Isn't there a negative connotation associated with that phrase?

Actually, no.

If anything, Philadelphians should be excited when they hear it. Since the housing slowdown began in 2008, there has been a lot of uncertainty about real estate. Because this uncertainty set in, many people chose to rent; but the cost to rent has increased drastically over the past 7 years. Now that development has started to pick back up, it is bringing more local jobs with it as well. Construction jobs, restaurant jobs, retail jobs, tourism jobs, and so on and so forth.

Philadelphia is experiencing some big and positive changes right now: New residents, new buildings, reinvigorated neighborhoods, and national/international recognition. The best part is, these changes are happening all over the city! It's always exciting to hear that your home town is growing, and even more exciting when that news spreads across the globe. Pope Francis, the DNC, you know what I'm talking about.

Although we have lots of great news to celebrate, there are still some lingering issues: Crime, poor public schools, business tax structure, etc. So please know that I am not trying to brush those issues aside.

If you know me or have ever met me, I am an optimist. It's just how I think, how I'm wired, and how I was born to look at the world. I believe in the Golden Rule. I also believe that "For every negative, there is a positive;" which is kind of my motto. So it goes to show that I see this article as another positive step forward for Philadelphia, and that the right development and projects will bring even more positive change with it.

Okay, let's get down to business, PUL-style.

As stated in the article, Philadelphia has gone through drastic changes before: One Liberty Place became the first Philadelphia skyscraper to actually look down on William Penn's head (...and not up at it), Society Hill changed for the better, and Center City started to redefine our city.

This PhillyMag.com article showcases 8 different Trends that are responsible for Philadelphia's New Boom. Here are the 3 that I like best:

1. "The Luxification of Center City" (Trend #3): Recently, I wrote a blog post titled, "Philadelphia's housing stock gets a boost in luxury." That is why this trend rings so true to me. As a whole, Philadelphia is an affordable city based on its size, its location, and its quality of life. If the motto for making a sound real estate decision is "location, location, location" then Philadelphia has this one down. So if I'm comparing/contrasting Philadelphia to make this statement, you do not have to look much further than Philadelphia's Northeastern US neighbors to understand why I am doing so: New York City, Washington DC, and Boston. All 3 of those metropolises offer plentiful real estate options in the luxury category, more than in the City of Brotherly Love, but not all of them have as much to offer as Philadelphia does. Our city is the 2nd largest in the Northeastern US (behind New York) and 5th largest in the US, we have one of the largest downtowns in the US (again, behind New York ... and more recently, just ahead of Chicago), and we are situated in between the financial capital of the world (NYC) as well as the political capital of the world (DC). Now that international money has spread to large metropolitan areas across the US, including Philadelphia, it stands to reason that Philadelphia will surely be offering more luxurious real estate options over the new few years. Remember, "location, location, location."

2. "A New Kind of Business" (Trend #6): Over the years, Center City has focused more on residential development than on commercial development. Some say the reason is because of our business tax structure (it's great to live in Philadelphia, but expensive to run a business in Philadelphia). While I agree with that theory, I don't think it's the only reason. While Philadelphia has some of the top universities in the world, retention was always an issue. People would come here for school, and then leave for a job. Nowadays, people are coming here for school and staying for a job. No large sign of this could be bigger than the highly anticipated Comcast Innovation + Technology Center. Not only will this new commercial building redefine our skyline, but it will bring with it modern architecture, new jobs, innovative and collaborative culture, and a Four Seasons Hotel located on the upper floors. Let's not also forget the upcoming FMC Tower, anything and everything happening in University City, and the local tech/start-up scene. All of these elements are creating a new work environment for Philadelphia, and more opportunity for those who want to live here.

3. "The Changing Neighborhoods" (Trend #8): For someone who was raised in the suburbs for the first half of his life, but has resided in the city for the second half, I cannot agree more with this ever apparent trend. If one thing has changed drastically in Philadelphia over the past 20+ years, it has been life within its neighborhoods; as Philadelphia is known as a "City of Neighborhoods." Historic homes have been rehabbed, new homes/buildings have been built, main streets have made a comeback, community groups are stronger than ever, planning is a part of daily life, and the state of Philadelphia's public school system is the hottest topic in the city (which can only mean that residents want to make them better for their families). Neighborhoods that once fell on hard times (as jobs and residents left the city 50 years ago) have bounced back through public/private investment and civic pride. This post-inspired article highlights Point Breeze and Fishtown, but there are many more going through the same positive changes.

Call it what you want, "New Boom" or something different, there is no denying the fact that Philadelphia is experiencing many positive trends today. Whether you agree with these trends or not, hop on your local regional rail or bus route, take a ride downtown, and grab some dinner and drinks while you're here.

It might just make you a believer.