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The trend in reurbanization has brought a boom of developing formerly abandoned spaces and new construction to Philadelphia and beyond.

Sometimes development is a dirty word, so we think that it is equally as important to tell stories of positive, intentional change.

As urbanists and designers, we track these trends and developments for work and for sport, and based on reading the comments around the internet, many of you do too.

Our Home Sweet ’Hood is an annual event designed to give people a chance to interact with the change makers who are transforming these spaces. This year, we led a hard hat tour of the city’s oldest neighborhood inside the Business Improvement District (BID): Midtown Village and the newly added East Market.

The teams from Brickstone Realty, SSH Real Estate, and National Real Estate Advisors have merged profit with purpose and are setting the standard for responsible projects in Philadelphia.

Midtown Village

Midtown Village has seen major growth in commercial and mixed-use spaces, with an increasing demand for natural light, shared common areas, and modern finishes. Over 1M square feet of commercial office space will be online by 2019, as well as a plethora of national and local retailers.

Midtown Village had ZERO SPECULATIVE demand one year ago. Now over $1B is under construction w spec capital #homesweethood Brickstone Realty

Antoinette Johnson
This demand has multiple ripple effects that are huge positives for quality of life and the local economy.

Growth like this is sustainable – more walkable retail means fewer drives to the big box stores on Delaware Avenue – and creates more pedestrian traffic throughout the day and night. The scale of this investment, over $1.5 billion worth, also gives Philadelphia a larger platform to attract the right types of businesses, jobs, and retail experiences for residents.

Biddle & Bailey Buildings

Our tour kicked off at Cohere HQ, also known as the Biddle Building on Sansom Street.

Since as early as 1832, the family Bailey Banks & Biddle had a significant impact on the region’s economy. The family was commissioned by the U.S. Government to update the Great Seal of the United States; its design today remains the official version of the seal. The company also designed and made many of the military medals that are still used today, including the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Rumored to be the beginning of Jewelers Row, the family ran their jewelry and coin operations out of these key buildings. In 1962, Bailey Banks & Biddle became a part of the Zale Corporation.

Today, the Bailey & Biddle buildings have been transformed by Thylan Associates, a real estate and investment firm in NYC.

After over two decades of abandonment, Thylan Associates finally recognized a need for creative office space in Philadelphia’s budding startup economy.

They targeted small to medium sized companies with room for growth to slowly fill up the Biddle Building in 2013. This development influenced a wave of financing for future commercial development in Midtown.

The most unique space in the connected building belongs (appropriately) to two firms who share it well – and Pay Per Technologies. Their space is full of natural light with an open floor plan and industrial touches. The highlight is the central glass-walled conference area which has couches and chairs comfortable enough for an afternoon nap, but are primarily used for meetings and presentations. They also take full advantage of the original skylights in the top-floor spot, which ironically means doesn’t truly need lamps for their work.

The Hale, Steele & Swartz Building

Brickstone Realty has been developing property in Philadelphia for over 35 years. The group made a significant impact on Center City’s commercial office space market by redeveloping the Wanamaker Building into class-A office space in the ’90s. Since then, they have redeveloped the famous Lits Building on Market Street and the Hale Building.

As the second leg of the tour, they provided an exclusive look at their newest projects:

Swartz – Built around 1841 to house the G. Vollmer Store for furniture, curtains, and upholstery. Formerly used as a furniture store, hat store, and engraving company, among others – including a former speakeasy-style nightclub!

Steele – On the former site of a vaudeville theater, the Steele Building was designed and built by William Steele Sons & Co. in 1912. Originally home to Horn & Hardart’s Baking Company – the innovative creator of the Automat, a self-serving vending machine-style restaurant concept that was popular in the early 20th century.

Baum’s Building – Built in 1895, the building was home to merchants and retailers for centuries, but is most notably known as the Baum’s dancewear shop.

Hale – Built by W.G. Hale, the architect who also designed the Divine Lorraine. In the 1800s, it served as an office building for bankers, lawyers, and detectives. It was the Garrick Theater in the 1900s and then a Turkish bath house in the 1950s. In the late 1980s-2000s, it was transformed into a Value-Plus dollar store, a time when Chestnut Street was suffering from neglect.

Their demand-driven approach led them to match these historic spaces with their best potential use, and aligned with their goal of giving the properties an additional 50 year lifespan:

Swartz – Today the Swartz Building is offering creative office space with retail and restaurant space on the ground floor.

Steele – The Steele Building today now reflects the theme of the Gold Rush era generating an economy based on ideas, exploration and innovations. The Yard coworking tenant provides space for month-to-month coworking memberships.

Baum’s Building – Now renovated as 12 one-bedroom apartments, with restaurants on the ground floor.

Hale Building – To be announced soon!

Having a front-row seat to Brickstone’s masterful work has been an opportunity we do not take lightly. In addition to their extraordinary projects, we’ve been fortunate to partner with HipCityVeg, Wrap Shack, and Schulson Collective (Double Knot, Sampan, Graffiti Bar, and Harp & Crown) among others to help meet the retail and hospitality demands of the new residents and tenants. Understanding the story and the philosophy behind their investments means that partners such as Cohere can provide more authentic solutions to their creative challenges.

For those who have not been inside the Hale Building, it is a true marvel. We were thrilled to hear that stewards John Connors and John Connors, Jr. would be leading the charge to preserve and activate the legendary building. Home to diverse former uses – there are still private investigator offices on the top floor – we are eagerly awaiting the announcement of new tenants who will bring intrigue back to Juniper and Chestnut.

East Market

Across the street from the new Steele Building is yet another bustling new creative office space. Known as the Design Center, it lives up to its billing in grand style with tenants such as Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

The Design Center is just one piece to the grand puzzle known as East Market – the 4.3 acre mixed use mecca from 11th to 12th St and Market to Chestnut.

JLL pegged it as the No. 1 commercial corridor for retail affordability and desirability in the nation.

Billy Penn

When completed, the two residential towers of East Market will have space for 560 people. Now, the Market East neighborhood has a Target, the Gallery’s overhaul is underway, and the East Market development has a MOM’s Organic Market and is getting an Iron Hill Brewery. An estimated $1.5 billion has been invested in the neighborhood.

National Real Estate: Idea! bridge gap between several neighborhoods by breaking down into smaller buildings. Not an island. #HomeSweetHood

Jonas Mcivitas

One of the key points we heard at our stop with National Real Estate Advisors (NREA) was their research and planning of the site. Not wanting to create “an island” like similar size spaces such as Rockefeller Plaza in New York, there are multiple entry points focused on activating the smaller throughways with two-front retail spaces.

We’re especially excited about the current mix of tenants – City Fitness, Wawa, and Iron Hill – adding quality amenities for the residential and commercial population that will call East Market home.

Tredici & Zavino

Following the deep dive into office redevelopment, we crossed over from work to play. The hospitable folks at Tredici hosted the end of the tour with delicious food and drink, offering anecdotal experiences transforming the corner of 13th and Sansom for the past 7 years.

In 2010, budding restaurateur Greg Dodge started Zavino Hospitality Group, a company that has since brought online five restaurants. The first was Zavino at 13th and Sansom, where his investment in the corner helped spawn a corridor of transformative change. The restaurant is known for their consistent Italian-style pizza, veggies, and pasta menu.

Across the street is Zavino’s older, more sophisticated sister, Tredici. Opened in fall 2015, the design of this restaurant is completely unique to any other in Philadelphia. Light, open, and airy, it brings a level of interior taste to Midtown Village that’s unseen in any other location. This has become the model location for the group’s expansion plan: they have since opened two others in DC and Bryn Mawr.

We love Greg’s philosophy on location – opting for dense environments where quick turnover can help key his restaurant’s growth.

By focusing particularly on corner units which maximize the visual appeal of his spaces and flood them with natural light during the day, he can get the most out of limited square footage that restaurateurs find in central locations.

In conclusion

Our tour covered a lot of ground, but by no means did we exhaust the spaces and developments shaping the neighborhood. Amazing folks like Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have made huge contributions in both retail and hospitality, while landlords such as Goldman Properties have laid the foundation for sustainable growth and expansion. Upstarts like Lapstone & Hammer and stalwarts like McGillin’s keep an eclectic corridor from feeling contrived.

Which neighborhoods’ stories would you like to hear in future events? Do you have a unique story about a favorite local spot?

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