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PhillyCarShare rolls out new office and electric cars

Ten years since launching here, PhillyCarShare (PCS) is still rolling along with innovation, with some recent maneuvers that make their service more convenient, sustainable and in tune with the city it serves.

The company opened up a much more convenient office and customer service center on a stretch of Chestnut St. left vacant by the Borders closing. It has also completely revamped its auto line-up with late model cars and added American-made electric vehicles to their fleet.

The agency opened up an easily-accessible office last month at 13th and Chestnut Sts., in an area that's been punctuated by the shuttering of Borders Books. Previously, PCS members had to trudge up 10 stories at 9th and Sansom Sts. to pick up key fobs or speak to an agent in person.

"The office remains convenient to mass transit but is conducive to walk-in customers so we can better serve immediate customer needs," says Lisa Martini, a spokeswoman with PCS' owner Enterprise Holdings.

Along with PhillyCarShare's new and more visible office, the agency is acquiring new cars that command attention. Martini says the firm is renting four Chevy Volts, which are $39,000 American-made electric cars. All four of the Volts are available to share at 11th and Filbert Sts., which is by SEPTA's Market East Station and Reading Terminal Market.

"PhillyCarShare Volts are being introduced in anticipation of the City of Philadelphia's installation this spring of 18 charging stations in nine locations," continues the spokeswoman. 

Enterprise confirms it's interested in dramatically expanding the portion of the PhillyCarShare fleet that is electric. Martini says she hopes the electric vehicles will tantalize current PhillyCarShare users and lure new people to join the car sharing network. She says the number of electric vehicles that are ordered depends on member feedback. If you're a PhillyCarShare member and you like the Chevy Volt, make sure to let the agency know about it. 

In addition to the electric cars, the resurgent car sharing business has replaced all of its autos and added new pods in Philly. In contrast to many of its older cars that lined city streets just eight months ago, the agency now uses 2011 and 2012 cars, vans, SUVs, and pick-ups. Martini highlights some of the new pods across the city, which were added to Market East, the Navy Yard, Mantua, and Cedar Park. All pods have been removed from SEPTA train station parking lots for the past month while both sides renegotiate their contract. Martini is unable to say when those pods will be restored.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Lisa Martini, Enterprise Holdings

Master Plan for the Central Delaware earns top honor from AIA

The Master Plan for the Central Delaware is one of 27 projects to be honored with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award. The award recognizes excellence in architecture and urban design and is the profession's highest honor.

A news release cites the City of Philadelphia's plan for striking a "strong balance between urban design and economic reality, proposing both public and private development to transform and regenerate six miles of waterfront,"

Priority sites along Spring Garden Street, Penn's Landing and Washington are seeing work first. Phasing and funding of new parks, trails, transit and connections to existing neighborhoods were praised as a "practical implementation strategy."

Cooper Roberts & Partners led an impressive team in developing the plan, including KieranTimberlake, OLIN and H&R&A. The plan takes into account goals and objectives developed through extensive civic engagement led by PennPraxis, and the plan was adopted by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation last June.

Source: Laurie Heinerichs, DRWC
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Redevelopment riff: Brandywine Lofts approved for former Paul Green School of Rock

The Broad St. corridor between Spring Garden and Ridge has seen some of the trendiest redevelopment in the city in the past few years, with residential development at Lofts 640 and culinary development at Osteria. It looks like this redevelopment is about to rub off on surrounding blocks. The Regis Group has obtained necessary zoning approvals to convert the erstwhile Paul Green School of Rock into the Brandywine Lofts apartments. Construction is expected to begin shortly at 15th and Brandywine, and the apartments should be up in four to five months.

The design firm JKR Partners, which is also working on a number of other projects across the city including North 28 in Brewerytown and 777 S. Broad, is handling the design elements for the Brandywine Lofts. Glenn Felgoise, the director of marketing at JKR, says the lofts will include 10 apartments on the second and third floors of the old music school. Five of these apartments will be on the second floor, three will be on the third floor, and two will be on both floors.

Felgoise says the first floor will be marked by a parking garage, game room, kitchenette, and garden space for residents. He confirms that each apartment will have its own parking space, and there will also be storage for at least 18 bicycles. The units will be sized from 813 to 1,043 sq. ft., and will include one or two bedrooms and one or two baths. Eight of the apartments will be fitted with decks. No word on price points yet.   

One reason why JKR was chosen to work on Brandywine Lofts is because of its expertise in adaptive re-use. Indeed, the design firm will strive to preserve some of the historical elements of the structure, especially on the second floor. “Units at [the] rear of second floor have exposed heavy timber trusses in space,” he reports. JKR is looking to preserve these trusses.

Given the recent development proposals on North Broad, Brandywine Lofts is in a great location. According to Felgoise, the best perks of the location are access to the Broad Street subway line, the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), and other new and proposed developments on Broad. The proposed Lofts are only one block from N. Broad and two blocks from the Spring Garden subway station. In addition, it will also be just a one-block bike ride to get to the conceptual Spring Garden St. Greenway.    

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Glenn Felgoise, JKR Partners

Mass transit focus can provide more value than I-95 removal, says city transportation leader

I-95 is one of the country’s most prolific highways, running between Maine and Florida. For the most part the highway runs uninterrupted, except for a small gap in the Trenton, NJ-area. With this in mind, a movement to remove the highway from the Delaware River waterfront landscape between the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges is gaining steam. The idea of reclaiming the city’s waterfront by removing the highway, or merely burying it, was discussed at the Re-Imagining Urban Highways forum last week at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

Speakers at Re-Imagining Urban Highways came from across the country, and represented the municipal, academic, and journalistic spheres. They include Aaron Naparstek of the transportation planning website StreetsBlog, Peter Park of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Thomas Deller of Providence, RI’s Department of Planning and Development, and Ashwan Balakrishnan with the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance. They discussed successful and current efforts to remove urban highways around the world, and the realized and potential benefits of removal.  

The final two speakers were Diana Lind, the editor in chief of Next American City, and Andrew Stober, the Chief of Staff for Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, both of whom gave a local perspective. Lind was the chief proponent of creating a dialogue about removing or burying I-95, as she cited other highways and arterials that motorists could detour on to avoid the highway. Unfortunately, some of these highways are as far away as South Jersey and the western suburbs. Lind revealed that she’ll be circulating a petition to PennDOT in favor of altering I-95 this week.  

As one of the most influential people in Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities, Stober had one of the evening's more interesting points of view. While willing to discuss the merits of burying or removing I-95, he concentrated on other improvements that could be made to the city and region’s transportation network. Stober’s main focus was on mass transit, which he called “an incredible endowment from previous generations.” He showcased the city’s proposals for Columbus Blvd., which include a light-rail line running down the median.

Stober preferred to concentrate on transit access because it “gives us more bang for the buck than dealing with the highway.” The chief of staff also lamented the unwillingness of some state and federal lawmakers to fund transportation and infrastructure, given that it’s not a glamorous topic for many voters. He cited the multitude of constituent feedback to puppy mill legislation, and compared it to the relative silence from voters on transportation legislation. Apparently, bridges and trains will never be as cute as pug and Labrador puppies.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Andrew Stober, Philadelphia Office of Transportation and Utilities

Northeast Philly lawmakers drive attention to funding Philly's transportation infrastructure

Amidst the din of barreling Amtrak trains at Holmesburg Junction Station, State Sen. Mike Stack and State Rep. Mike McGeehan drew attention to the dire need to fund Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure this past week. Speaking a week before Gov. Corbett’s long-awaited release of a transportation funding plan, Sen. Stack and Rep. McGeehan sounded the alarm on the poor state of road and mass transit infrastructure in the Philadelphia area.

Stack (D-Philadelphia) focused his remarks on the urgency of fixing SEPTA’s infrastructure. “Our transportation system is falling apart right underneath our tracks,” says Stack, as he stood next to the bustling Northeast Corridor rail tracks. He pulled out some sobering statistics, including that SEPTA’s mean bridge age is more than 80 years old. While Northeast Corridor bridges are maintained by Amtrak, this includes bridges on SEPTA’s West Trenton line, which pierces Stack’s district. Some bridges on Regional Rail lines outside of the senator's district are even older and in even worse shape.

Stack, along with SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey, spoke specifically about Holmesburg Junction Station, which serves SEPTA’s Trenton line trains. Stack mentioned that SEPTA’s last rider census showed 613 riders using the stop every weekday. The station’s popularity is underscored by the multitude of cars that easily fill up the station’s small parking lot and bubble over onto the surrounding streets. Casey emphasized that if SEPTA received additional state funding, it would install more parking, renovate the train station, and make it handicapped accessible. 

McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), the Democratic chair of the House Transportation Committee, concentrated on past accomplishments of transportation spending and their potential to create jobs and improve the city. One accomplishment he cited was red-light cameras, which he said have made Roosevelt Blvd. a safer place to drive. McGeehan also made certain to equate transportation spending with job creation, whether in construction, engineering, or other fields. Finally, he pointedly stated “we can’t have a first-class city without a first-class transportation system.” 

While funding SEPTA is certainly important, the senator and representative also urged Gov. Corbett to fund the region’s roads and bridges. Just in Philadelphia, there are 85 “structurally deficient” bridges and 145 bridges that have otherwise outlived their prime, which ferry 5.5 million cars every day, according to Sen. Stack. Some of the most well-traveled bridges are on I-95, which runs through Holmesburg. Statewide, the Commonwealth has the nation’s highest percentage of “structurally deficient” bridges, he says. 

Stack and McGeehan consistently referenced the sense of urgency that must accompany transportation funding. There will be “nothing but tragic consequences if we don’t do anything,” said Stack with a sense of gloom. “Invest in infrastructure now, not before it’s too late.” Their remarks were directed largely at Gov. Corbett, who many observers believe has put off finding a transportation infrastructure funding solution. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Senator Mike Stack and Representative Mike McGeehan

Philadelphia Zoo creating new sustainable children's center with rare animal breeds

The Philadelphia Zoo might be the nation’s oldest zoo, but it’s ahead of its time when it comes to sustainability.

The zoo began work a few months ago on a new LEED-certified, indoor children’s zoo called the Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Education Center, which will house animals hard to find at U.S. zoos. In addition to rare animal breeds, the zoo hopes to include animals that are currently, or are likely to be, affected by climate change.

The zoo is planning to offer a panoply of exotic animals for children, some of which will teach lessons about environmental decay. "There will be a great variety [of animals], providing opportunity for our youngest visitors to engage with animals," reports Dr. Andy Baker, the zoo’s chief operating officer. These animals will represent rare breeds of livestock, sheep, goats, and miniature horses. According to Baker, the youth zoo will also emphasize animals affected by climate change, such as Australian parakeets, tropical butterflies and fish, high-elevation frogs, ants, and even dreaded rats.

The Hamilton addition will include the first LEED-certified zoo building in Pennsylvania. Baker is excited about the zoo’s environmentally friendly approach to teaching children. First of all, he says the project will be sustainable because it will re-use an existing structure, the former pachyderm house. While some new structures will have to be built, they will come equipped with green roofs. Third of all, the children’s center will include a "significant geothermal field" for heating and air conditioning, says Baker. Finally, the facility will utilize rain gardens, and re-use graywater for restrooms.

Baker also hopes to make the new children’s zoo accessible to all types of children, including those with communications and physical disabilities. "Signage will include pictures for autistic kids," says Baker. He also assures that Braille and sign language will be made available for children who are visually- or aurally-impaired. The children’s zoo and education center will also be situated near the entrance of the zoo, which makes it more convenient for children in wheelchairs. Baker makes sure to add that this is part of the zoo’s "tremendous ambition" to enable children to interact with animals.

Expect the Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo and Education Center to open in April, 2013. Baker believes construction will wrap up late this year or early next year, with the remaining few months devoted to opening preparation. Sustainability as it relates to animals and humans will be a central theme, as Baker promises it will include lessons on how people can recycle and use water and energy efficiently.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dr. Andy Baker, Philadelphia Zoo

Rush & Hush: PATCO to experiment with a Quiet Car for South Jersey commuters

Have you ever had to bear with someone on the phone having a loud argument with their boyfriend or that group of teenagers that just won't shut up on your train? If so, you might be intrigued to hear that PATCO, which operates the high-speed rail line between Lindenwold, NJ and Philadelphia, wants to shush the arguments and boisterous conversations. In fact, PATCO will be testing a "quiet car" on all weekday trains starting in March.

John Rink, the new General Manager of PATCO, reports that his agency's "quiet car" program will be modeled after SEPTA's successful QuietRide policy on Regional Rail. On designated cars, this means cell phone use will be forbidden, any conversations should be fleeting and in a low voice, and passengers must listen to music using ear buds or headphones so as no one else will be able to hear. PATCO plans on delineating the rear cars of its weekday trains as "quiet cars," which means you can still yak to your heart's content if you're not in the last car.

One major difference between PATCO and SEPTA Regional Rail is that the South Jersey rail agency doesn't use conductors. This will pose challenges for enforcement in "quiet cars," but Rink is confident the policy can be a success. "Train Operators will make periodic announcements during each trip, Variable Message Signs [VMS] on platform will display messages, and from time-to-time our Transit Unit [police] will ride in the quiet car," avers Rink. However, he adds that self-enforcement among riders will be key. As with SEPTA, it will be important that riders don't quarrel over enforcement.

With about a month left before the three-month trial begins, Rink wants to get the word out about the "quiet car" as much as possible to PATCO riders. "We will Tweet, post on Facebook, discuss in our E-Newsletter, place on our website, [put] signage in the train cars, [and place] signage in our stations," says the general manager. In addition, Rink expects to utilize station supervisors to hand out notices the week before and the first week of the "quiet car" experiment.

Along with the "quiet car" program, PATCO will also unveil a Courtesy Counts campaign. This campaign will urge riders to treat fellow riders with respect by not taking up seats with personal belongings, not standing and blocking the train doors, keeping one's voice down when talking on the phone, and grooving to music with a reasonable volume. PATCO already has a video for Courtesy Counts on its website, which uses a humorous approach to draw attention to serious problems. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: John Rink, PATCO PHOTO: courtesy Delaware River Port Authority

A sip and taste of Spain comes to 13th St. as dynamic duo grows Midtown Village vision

Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have just expanded their empire on 13th St. in Midtown Village with the opening of Jamonera, a Spanish tapas bar, this past Sunday. Jamonera, located between Chestnut and Sansom Sts., will serve small and medium-sized plates, wines, and sherries, inspired by the duo's recent travel to Southern Spain. The restaurant will be open for dinner and post-dinner patrons.  

The opening of Jamonera at 105 S. 13th St. solidifies Turney and Safran's imprint on the entire block. They began with a home and gift store called Open House at 107 S. 13th back in 2002. Since then, their passion for the street and Midtown Village has gushed forward with the opening of five other stores and restaurants. At 101, there's Grocery market and catering, while 106 houses Lolita, a Mexican dining option. 108 is home to Verde, a jewelry and gift shop, while 110 finds Barbuzzo, a Mediterranean bar.

Jamonera offers a wealth of culinary options, with all the flair you'd expect from Spain. "Guests can expect to enjoy banderillas of olives, boquerones and guindilla peppers, and crispy calasparra rice with heirloom pumpkin," says Valerie Safran. Other menu items include lamb skewers and cucina. Safran says the tapas plates run from $4 to $36, and are all meant to be shared. 

While the food options are sure to elicit salivation, the drink options are equally impressive. "We've selected a group of wines that we believe are the best expression of Spain's terroir, with earthy reds and bright, crisp whites ideally suited to sipping alongside the varied flavors of the food," describes Safran. Along with the wines, Jamonera serves an enviable selection of sherries.

Both Safran and Turney bemoan the former lack of a genuine tapas restaurant in Midtown Village. They highlight the rich flavors and relaxed atmosphere that accompany tapas restaurants. To best mimic the vibe of a Spanish tapas bar, the entrepreneurs teamed up with Urban Space Development. Together, they decided to festoon the tapas bar with Rioja-colored wood and reddish lighting. They also installed old-fashioned mirrors and intricate wood chandeliers.

The owners are proud of all the work they've done for their block of 13th St. "We love that we've helped transform 13th Street into a destination for the city," says Safran. She points out that the neighborhood was deemed far from appealing by many when she and her business partner opened their first business, but has come a long way. The entrepreneurs' love of their street is palpable on-line as well, where they run a website called "We love 13th Street," which helps link their panoply of stores and restaurants.

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Valerie Safran and Marcie Turney, Jamonera

PennDOT re-configuring Richmond St. in anticipation of I-95 re-construction

For those who drive on or around I-95 in Port Richmond and/or Fishtown, it's time to face the inevitable. After decades of shin-splintering abuse from cars, trucks, and buses, the highway and its surrounding streets will have to be re-constructed. This construction has already begun on Richmond St, which is a popular highway detour and neighborhood street in Port Richmond.

PennDOT's ambitious efforts to improve Richmond Street are now underway. Elaine Elbich, PennDOT's project manager for the highway re-construction, says that Richmond St. will be made more practical to drive, bike, or walk along, and more beautiful to look at. She says the street will be widened to accommodate one auto lane in both directions, one bicycle lane in both directions, and a center turn lane. This work is necessitated by new access points to I-95 from Richmond that will be built during the course of the interstate's overhaul.

Elbich also points out that Richmond St.'s aesthetic appeal is a top priority of the transportation department. This includes enhanced lighting and the planting of new trees. There will also be an intriguing public art component to this, which the Port Richmond community insisted upon. Elbich says the community decided to showcase the fabled Cramp heavy metal shipyard building, which ironically was demolished to make way for a new highway interchange with Richmond. According to the project manager, PennDOT is working with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation to identify an artist.

PennDOT is currently in the very preliminary stages of its work on both Richmond St. and I-95. At the moment, they're removing the SEPTA trolley wire and boring through soil at the site of Conrail bridges that will eventually be replaced. As for the interstate, Elbich says that construction will commence in early autumn at the earliest. The highway lane closures that drivers despise might go into effect early next year, although they will be confined to overnight, weekend, and possibly off-peak midday periods.

Chuck Davies, PennDOT's assistant district executive for design, underscores just how hungry the highway is to be re-constructed. "There are long-standing safety problems on the highway connected to the geometry of interchanges,” advises Davies. Furthermore, the age of I-95 is a driving force behind the need for repair. Davies points out that some of Southeastern Pennsylvania's most severely structurally deficient bridges rust along 95.

The good news for motorists is that PennDOT will have multiple avenues of keeping drivers informed during the construction on Richmond St. and I-95. The department maintains a website called 95revive.com, which features primers on the various stages of the project, current construction, traffic conditions, and a construction newsletter. Also, drivers, or better yet passengers, can call 511 to receive traffic information. For those drivers who don't have hands-free phones, variable message boards, travel time readers, and other Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) will be employed on I-95.

Sources: Elaine Elbich and Chuck Davies, PennDOT
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Metro Impact Homes is building up Southwest Center City

Whether you call the neighborhood Southwest Center City, Graduate Hospital, or G-Ho, one thing that’s not debatable about the blocks immediately to the southwest of Center City is the amount of new and rehabilitated housing that has sprung up in the past few years. Metro Impact Homes is a large reason why this neighborhood’s housing stock has improved. Metro Impact has been building rowhouses and condominiums between 16th St. and Grays Ferry Ave and between Fitzwater and Kimball Sts. for the past few years, and is getting bolder with its scope.

One intriguing project that Metro Impact is currently working on is Montrose Court around 25th and Grays Ferry, mentions Steve Shklovsky, the head of the development firm. Here, Metro is hoping to construct 11 luxury rowhomes with roof decks, green roofs, and garages. "My goal is to transform what is now the worst block in the neighborhood into one of the nicest," says Shklovsky. As development is rarely easy, some neighbors are protesting because of the proposed size of the rowhome yards. This means Metro will need a zoning hearing in a couple of weeks. The new development should start around $400,000.

Another planned Metro Impact development that’s brewing a lot of buzz is the opulent Fitz4 on Fitzwater St. betwixt 16th and 17th. Like the previous development, Fitz4 will feature roof decks and garages, and will be built on what currently is a forsaken intersection. According to Shklovsky, A total of four homes are being drawn up for Fitz4, with two being corner properties. The homes will be far from cheap, as prices are expected to begin in the $700,000 range.

Metro’s proposed new development should only serve to add an exclamation point to the firm’s existing development in Southwest Center City. One of Shklovsky’s proudest developments is at 1910 Christian St., which is a six-unit condominium development. What makes the developer so proud? "The south side of that block is one of the only in the (neighborhood) which had all matching facades and heights," exclaims Shklovsky. Perhaps it was this attention to blending in with the rest of the block that resulted in every condo unit being put under contract within 30 days.

Shklovsky is very content with developing in Southwest Center City, even though his office is in Southampton, Bucks County. He cites the neighborhood’s proximal location to the Rittenhouse Square area and University City as a reason why he’s so enamored. He quickly adds that many of his buyers are doctors and medical students who can appreciate the convenient access to the Penn health system. His primary complaint about the neighborhood is that there isn’t enough commercial space. The developer is sure to mention that he hopes to eventually move his offices to the city. 

Source: Steve Shklovsky, Metro Impact Homes
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Kensington Community Food Co-op working hard to expand influence of co-ops around Philadelphia

Food and energy cooperatives have certainly gained steam in the Delaware Valley in the past few years. Odds are you’ve heard of Weaver’s Way Co-op in Northwest Philadelphia, and you may have even heard of Mariposa and the Energy Co-op. Yet, there’s one you may not have heard of that’s working with federal and city lawmakers to pump up the clout of local co-ops. This co-op is the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC), which was founded in 2008.

One of KCFC’s top priorities is to get the United States House of Representatives to pass the National Cooperative Development Act, according to Peter Frank, the vice president of KCFC and the campaign coordinator of the movement to pass the act. While this is national legislation, Frank is unequivocal that the passage would be a great thing for the Philadelphia-area. “Philadelphia also has a good 'co-op infrastructure' in place to support further co-op development,” says Frank.

This would explain the November launch of the Philadelphia-area Cooperative Alliance (PACA). Along with KCFC, the Alliance counts members from Weaver’s Way, Mariposa, the Energy Co-op, and credit unions. Frank says PACA is orchestrating a cooperative conference at Drexel University in June, which is being organized by the grandson of former mayor Richardson Dilworth on Drexel’s behalf. One of PACA’s first tasks will be to work with Philadelphia City Council to pass a resolution recognizing the social and economic windfalls of cooperatives in the city. 

KCFC’s Vice President is so passionate about the National Cooperative Development Act and PACA because of the positive impact they can have on Kensington. For one thing, KCFC has been looking to open up its own grocery store for some time now, but has not had the funds to do so. The proposed bill could turn the key for this grocery store. Going beyond just KCFC, Frank lauds cooperatives as a chance for decent jobs, vital grocery and banking services, and a means of keeping money in and around Kensington.  

The myriad local benefits of cooperatives justifies why local representative Chaka Fattah wrote the Act, while fellow local Reps. Allyson Schwartz and Bob Brady co-sponsored. Specifically, the bill would provide capital funding for co-ops, along with free technical assistance and training, says Frank. The bill was officially introduced to the U.S. House as H.R. 3677 a couple of weeks ago. No word on when it will go up for vote.

Source: Peter Frank, Kensington Community Food Co-op
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Reading Terminal Market expansion will include more vendors, demo kitchen and event space

Philadelphia's most notable farmer's market will get a little bigger in 2012. Come April, the Reading Terminal Market will be ready to unveil space for four to five new vendors, a demonstration kitchen, multi-functional event space, and expanded restrooms, according to general manager Paul Steinke. The expansion will catapult the back of the market, known as the eastern end, into the spotlight. It comes on the heels of the opening of Molly Malloy's, which has proven a popular gastropub.  

Steinke is quick to point out the cornerstone of the soon-to-be expanded market, the Rick Nichols Room. This event space "will feature a permanent, museum-quality exhibit on the history of the market," promises Steinke. The space is named in honor of recently retired local food critic Rick Nichols, who wrote about all things edible in Philadelphia for 15 years. The space is being created in conjunction with the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. The space will double as a meeting and party zone, available for rental by groups.

Reading Terminal currently has no shortage of applications from businesses that want to take advantage of the new vendor space, assures Steinke. He says the market is looking for businesses that complement the "culinary and ethnic diversity." It looks like no decision has yet been made on new vendors. The market also promises to double its restroom capacity and provide cooking classes and chef presentations when it finalizes its expansion.

One of the greatest challenges in expanding the market has been maintaining the building's historical character. To make sure this happens, the market put the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia's Eugene LeFevre in charge of the renovation. LeFevre has specialized in renovating classic buildings, including the Mellon Independence Center and the Morris House Hotel, for 25 years. Steinke underscores the added difficulty of working on a historic building. "You never know what you're going to find when you work on a historic building," he says.

While the current expansion of the eastern portion of the market is indeed exciting, many would like to see the Reading Terminal expand on the other side of Filbert St. Steinke recognizes this, and says the market has been in talks about taking over the property across Filbert. The property is owned by the city's Redevelopment Authority. Despite these talks, there are no solid plans for the market to venture across the street at this time. It looks like the Reading Terminal Market will have to conduct one expansion at a time. From now until April, that expansion will be the eastern wing.  

Source: Paul Steinke, Reading Terminal Market
Writer: Andy Sharpe

2011 turned out to be a hot year for Philadelphia public transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians

This past year was notable for the amount of cooperation between Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU), the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC), SEPTA, the Center City District, and others to improve sustainable transportation in the city. Along with this, SEPTA received grants and private sector investment to decrease the footprint of its buses and trains. 

The city and SEPTA had a common goal of trying to speed up buses in 2011. The two have been deeply intrigued by giving transit vehicles traffic signal priority, which would entail using smart traffic lights that can sense when a SEPTA vehicle approaches and then stay green for a little longer. The city and SEPTA were rewarded for these efforts just in time for the holidays with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to install transit signal priority along Castor, Oxford, and Bustleton Aves. in Northeast Philadelphia, according to the office of U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz.

It was also a fruitful year for bicycle and pedestrian proponents in Philadelphia. MOTU embarked on an experiment to remove a lane of vehicular traffic on Market St. and JFK Blvd. between 15th and 20th Sts. to test the feasibility of making the lanes buffered bike lanes with vegetation. From all accounts, it looks like this experiment was a success. The City Planning Commission also presented an ambitious plan to dramatically bolster conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians in Southwest and West Philadelphia.  

Sources: Andrew Stober and Aaron Ritz, Philadelphia Office of Transportation and Utilities, Dan Goodman, Toole Design
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Onion Flats hopes to connect the Schuylkill Trail with East Falls through mixed-use development

Onion Flats is looking to capitalize on East Falls' proximity to the Schuylkill River Trail and Fairmount Park by redeveloping the former Rivage catering hall between Kelly Dr. and Ridge Ave. The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority just gave Onion Flats the go-ahead to design a sustainable residential and retail complex called The Ridge. Given the property's accessibility and visibility by bike, bus, and car, there's considerable buzz surrounding this redevelopment in East Falls.

The Norris Square-based developer proposes a 5-story 128,440 sq. ft. development for The Ridge. According to Tim McDonald, president of Onion Flats, this will consist of 126 one- and two-bedroom apartments and 8,700 sq. ft. of retail space. McDonald gives some hints as to what kind of retail will be included by saying "ours will be small-scale retail, cafe, restaurant, etc." He adds that The Ridge has the potential to be a retail "gateway" into East Falls, and a complement to existing businesses on Ridge Ave.

Like their previous development in Fishtown and Northern Liberties, including Rag Flats, Jack Hammer, and Thin Flats, sustainability is going to be a distinguishing feature of The Ridge. McDonald hopes the East Falls development will "become Philadelphia's first Passive House Certified and Net-Zero-Energy mixed-use residential/retail community as well as the country's largest." In simpler language, this means all energy needed for water, HVAC, and lighting will be produced locally using solar energy. Onion Flats also aims to emit net zero carbon dioxide at The Ridge.

As it is proposed, The Ridge will also live and die off of a sense of community. In this vein, McDonald doesn't want to see any in-door hallways, but instead out-door passageways that facilitate interaction between neighbors. Also, the second level of The Ridge is modeled to include a community garden space, which will be visible on upper floors through public viewing spaces. For residents, this community garden will act as a doormat, as the second floor is proposed as the main residential entrance. 

The redevelopment of the Rivage by Onion Flats appears to have the initial blessing of East Falls community groups. Unlike previous controversial proposals involving the police department's Special Victims Unit and a high school for troubled youth, neighborhood groups seem to see The Ridge as a development meant to foster community and put an exclamation point on East Falls' propinquity to Fairmount Park. This is not to say that every element of McDonald's plan will meet with community approval, but in general local residents are excited about the redevelopment. 

The Redevelopment Authority's decision to choose Onion Flats for the Rivage property is just the start of an extended process that includes "community meetings, building permits, closing on financing," and other aspects, says McDonald. Should neighborhood groups offer an endorsement, McDonald expects groundbreaking to commence in early 2013. He expects to offer a final design in six months, including all the sustainability and community elements that have so far been proposed. 

Source: Tim McDonald, Onion Flats
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Center City to get a case of the shakes and stir-fries with new self-serve restaurant

For those of you who walk down 16th St. in Center City, you may have noticed a change. In fact, Philadelphia's only Pita Pit location is no longer at 16th and Sansom. Yet, the space is not expected to stay empty for long, as a self-serve stir-fry, shake, and salad eatery called Honeygrow is planning on opening its first location in early- to mid-spring.

Honeygrow promises to be a unique dining option in a neighborhood that's filled with diverse restaurants. Justin Rosenberg, who along with David Robkin is responsible for Honeygrow, gloats that his restaurant will offer unique homemade sauces for the stir-fries, including Smoked Oyster, Indonesian Barbeque, and Citrus Wasabi. Along with the sauces, stir-fries will come with a choice of wheat, soba, or gluten-free noodles. Rosenberg also promises "local produce as much as possible." The stir-fries will cost between $8-$10.

Another unique aspect to Honeygrow will be the self-serve ordering and payment. Just like Wawa has self-serve ordering kiosks, Rosenberg has a similar idea in mind. To go a step further, the kiosks will be smart enough to know repeat customers and what they've ordered in the past. Finally, payment will also be handled by machine, which will accept credit and debit cards. Rosenberg is currently unsure how many employees will be hired, although they might be limited with the self-service.

The name "Honeygrow" is another reflection of just how unique the restaurant aims to be. "(We) wanted a name never used and alludes to only one thing- our concept," clarifies Rosenberg. "'Honey' speaks to the warmth, simplicity, and sweeter side of our menu," while "grow" denotes how fulfilling the entrepreneur hopes his restaurant will be.

Rosenberg and Robkin hope to open additional locations in the next couple of years. When it comes to growth, "the sky is the limit," says an ambitious Rosenberg. He quickly adds that Honeygrow will be focusing on just the Philadelphia-area for the time-being. The entrepreneurs' love of the city is evident in that they decided to open their first location right in the middle of the city's Central Business District.

Honeygrow will feature 35 seats, and be designed by local firm DAS Architects. The interior will be bred from New York City eateries Momofuku and Chop't, with a design that Rosenberg describes as "expressive, modern rustic." At the same time, the co-owner promises that his business will have a simple design that caters to customers who are on-the-go.     

Source: Justin Rosenberg, Honeygrow
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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