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South Street Bridge reopening announced for early November

With 25,000 state-owned bridges, Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of bridges in the nation. Few see as much traffic as Philadelphia's South Street Bridge. The thoroughfare connecting the western section of the Graduate Hospital neighborhood to University City and I-76 sees over 25,000 vehicles per day. So when the bridge was closed for repairs on Dec. 8 2008, the construction had to be completed quickly. Now, less than two years later, the bridge is set to reopen on November 6. 

"This was an aggressive schedule," says Streets Department Civil Engineer David Perri. "But that bridge serves too many folks that need to cross the Schuylkill. The longer it's closed, the more of a negative impact it has on the business interests and on people who need to walk and bicycle to work."

But this Pennsylvania bridge wasn't going to go through a closure without getting a few bells and whistles. The Streets Department added widened sidewalks, dedicated bicycle lanes, a crossing to the Schuylkill River trail, and four pedestrian overlooks at the base of the decorative towers. And the neighborhoods surrounding this arterial passage couldn't be happier. To celebrate the reopening, a formal ribbon cutting will follow the ceremonial first motorist, first pedestrian and even first cyclist to cross the bridge.

To mark the occasion, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will offer half-price admission to everyone on both sides of the bride who comes to the museum without a car. Also, various South Street merchants will be throwing block parties to welcome the traffic back to the community.

"If you take this many vehicles out of a neighborhood, it will have an impact on the commercial businesses," says Perri. "This will restore the traffic to the level it was at before the bridge closure."

Source: David Perri, Philadelphia Streets Department
Writer: John Steele

PHA receives American Institute of Architects award for sustainable housing project

When the Philadelphia Housing Authority created the Lucien E. Blackwell housing plan that would see the demolition of the Mill Creek Housing Development in 2000, they knew they couldn't stop with just a few buildings. Growing up in the Mill Creek neighborhood as a kid, architect Michael Johns knew that certain blocks in the distressed neighborhood could help bring the new Mill Creek back stronger. But after adding over 700 housing units and an assisted living facility, there was not enough left to save the most distressed block in the neighborhood, the 800 block of Markoe Street.

Johns, who acts as PHA's General Manager of Community Development and Design, and his colleagues had a plan. They would host a design competition while the plan waited for funding. PHA chose Jibe Design, a small Center City firm. Funding finally became available and the project began construction earlier this month. This week, the American Institute for Architecture acknowledged the project with one of 16 national awards for design excellence.

"So often with (this type of) housing, there is a challenge to get something that is modern and sustainable and cost-effective," says Johns. "And we didn't want to create something that, in ten years looked like bell bottoms and a tie-dye shirt. We needed something that would last."

What they got was a proposal for 17 rehabs and six new constructions, all LEED Platinum. This is no ordinary public housing. Exposed brick, reclaimed wood beams and modern amenities finally give Markoe Street the renovation that began here 10 years ago. As for Johns and his team, the project was worth the wait.

"What this award shows is, at the base level, there are folks at the Housing Authority that are committed to changing neighborhoods and this award really draws attention to that effort," says Johns.

Source: Michael Johns, Philadelphia Housing Authority
Writer: John Steele

Two Center City District initiatives honored with national awards

In Philadelphia, the Center City District has become a household name. With its jump-suited juggernaut keeping the streets clean and planning publications that are leading the direction of Philadelphia's potent downtown, hometown accolades are never in short supply. But it's always nice when outsiders let you know that your work matters on a national level. Last week, D.C.-based International Downtown Association announced CCD's Philadelphia Retail Marketing Alliance as the recipient for its Downtown Pinnacle Award in Marketing and Communications. Also announced last week, Harvard's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation acknowledged CCD's Public Spaces Initiative in its inaugural Bright Ideas program.

"It was an honor to be considered for this award," says Public Space Collaborative leader Bill Hughes. "Everyone in the collaborative really takes pride in what they are doing and this really validates everything that we do and the fact that we work as a team in Center City to create a positive environment."

Both projects used technology in new ways to organize varied information, helping Center City's planning and improvement efforts run more smoothly. The Philadelphia Retail Marketing Alliance created a partnership between Center City businesses, which directed all marketing resources toward the same goal. CCD created a website, PhiladelphiaRetail.com, that brings all the information needed to conduct business in Center City together in one location. With
the Public Spaces Collaborative, CCD staff used handheld computers to record and map potholes, broken windows and graffiti, getting alerts to the right agencies. 

"This is another nice accolade to have under our belt," says PRMA leader Ivy Olesh. "We work with so many different landlords and developers and retailers and brokers, it's nice to say that this project is something that is nationally recognized."

Source: Ivy Olesh and Bill Hughes, CCD
Writer: John Steele

Bank shot! 1200 Bank project goes before Center City zoning board

It's hard to imagine a game cooler that pool. Everyone from Tom Cruise to the Rat Pack have famously chalked up. But for a sport known for scotch, suits and smoke, Philadelphia's billiard halls instead attract the young college set to brightly lit amusement centers or back-room, quarter-vended tables. A new project from architecture/interior design firm DAS Architects looks to bring billiards center stage, giving the game's classic cool the home it deserves.

On Friday, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved a proposal from Philly developer Paul Giegerich to redesign the former Beneficial Bank building at 1200 Chestnut Street into an upscale billiard hall. The project would feature a circular, second-floor bar overlooking the action below, board rooms transformed into banquet spaces and a rooftop lounge with a retractable glass roof. The proposal goes before the Center City zoning board this week, trying to sink the 8-ball on this high-concept development.

"A lot of vagrants have used the porch as a place to hang out," says DAS principal David Schultz of the long-vacant building. "Everybody is, I think, excited that there is going to be a positive use for the building, that we are bringing life back to the building and will help improve the neighborhood."

1200 Chestnut is a historic space, designed in 1916 by famous Philadelphia Museum of Art architect Horace Trumbauer, so architects are limited in their alterations. DAS will add LED light fixtures and green roof elements like reflective roof tiles for the outdoor lounge, but hope to bring understated design elements from its last bank building renovation, Union Trust steakhouse, to the stately design of Trumbauer, an achievement Schultz says he wouldn't change if he could.

"One of the benefits of this space is that it doesn't require any meaningful changes," says Schultz. "We will beautify the existing space while maintaining its architectural elegance."

Source: David Schultz, DAS Architects
Writer: John Steele

SEPTA receives $6.4M in federal grants to develop transit asset management system

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey announced last Tuesday that Pennsylvania would receive $47 million in federal transit and infrastructure grants as part of the Federal Transit Administration's State of Good Repair program. As SEPTA updated its hybrid bus fleet two years ago, the lion's share of the funding went to Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Port Authority for a clean diesel fleet of their own. But SEPTA didn't come away empty handed, receiving $8.1 million for two infrastructure improvements a long time coming.

The first grant will revamp SEPTA's Parkside Bus Loop, helping reconnect this West Philly neighborhood. But the second, more universal improvement will aid in future upgrades. Using $6.4 million, SEPTA will install an asset management system to aid in record-keeping as many of Philadelphia's transit assets come up for repairs.

"A lot of our infrastructure dates back to the early 1900's and were taken over from other private companies," says SEPTA CFO Richard Burnfield. "What the FTA was trying to focus on is knowing what you have out there in the field before you can make an assessment as to what your overall needs are, coming up with a plan for when things should be replaced."

The system will help SEPTA keep better records so when funding is available, the authority can make a more organized, more compelling case for further federal dollars as the fleet is upgraded.

"Right now, we do a very good job of managing our assets so while the records are not as computerized as we'd like them to be, we have so much knowledge within our engineering staff that I feel we make excellent decisions," says Burnfield. "But I think this will help us going forward so we can do a second check on things as our staff reaches retirement."

Source: Richard Burnfield, SEPTA
Writer: John Steele

Amtrak stops at 30th Street Station to announce high-speed rail plan

In science fiction novels and books about the future, a few technologies are boilerplate: flying cars, meals in pill form and the ability to teleport instantly from place to place. National commuter rail company Amtrak took another step toward teleportation on Tuesday with its announcement of a high-speed rail vision plan. In Tuesday's news conference from University City's 30th Street Station, with Governor Ed Rendell on hand, Amtrak officials laid out their goal to create a line with average speeds well over 130 mph, saving passengers between one and two hours on average.

"Amtrak is putting forward a bold vision of a realistic and attainable future that can revolutionize transportation, travel patterns and economic development in the Northeast for generations," says Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman.

The plan, entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor, proposes a full build-out to be completed by 2040. Its construction, Amtrak says, would create more than 40,000 full-time jobs annually over a 25-year period, building new track, tunnels, bridges, stations, and other infrastructure. Predictably, the cost for such a project is high, $4.7 billion annually over 25 years. But Amtrak's feasibility studies peg the Northeast as a "mega-region" capable of drawing the type of rail traffic to make such an investment profitable. And with some premier legislative voices like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg and Massachusetts' John Kerry already voicing their support, we may be teleporting out of 30th Street Station sooner than we think.

"Amtrak's High Speed Rail plan will create jobs, cut pollution and help us move towards a modern and reliable transportation system network in the Northeast," said Kerry in a recent statement. "As countries around the world continue to build out their transportation systems, we
cannot afford to fall further behind. This is an important down payment on the massive commitment necessary to bridge our infrastructure gap." 

Source: Joseph Boardman, Amtrak
Writer: John Steele

Brandywine Realty Trust completes Cira Center expansion, receives early completion loan

Since opening nearly five years ago, the Cira Centre has been lighting up the Schuylkill Expressway with its LED light curtain and shining obelisk design. But remaining a relevant part of Philadelphia's developing skyline is never easy. In fact, the Cira has become so popular in its first half-decade, it is already expanding.

Last week, Brandywine Realty Trust--the development firm that brought the Cira Centre construction to 30th Street Station--announced completion of the building's south garage and a renovation to the 30th Street Station post office. Coming in ahead of schedule and under budget netted BRT $256.5 million in loan financing from CTL Capital, LLC that had been escrowed pending completion. The financing will go towards reducing borrowings and paying operational costs.

"We are extremely pleased to complete the $342 million 30th Street Post Office and Cira South Garage projects on time and under budget and to close this previously announced financing," says BRT President and CEO Gerard Sweeney. "The completion of this project enhances the economic growth of the University City sub-market and restores an important piece of Philadelphia's architectural history."

The project will create a 1,662-car parking structure and 9,788 square feet of retail space. BRT will be seeking LEED silver certification, a mid-level environmental design distinction. The company expects to begin construction in 2011.

Source: Gerard Sweeney, Brandywine Realty Trust
Writer: John Steele
202 Center City Articles | Page: | Show All
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