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ANALSYIS: How new Eastern Tower Community Center can be a modern symbol of immigration in Philly

There’s no question about it, these days there are a lot of hot ‘hoods in Philly’s residential real estate market.  And over the past decade, none have been hotter or healthier than Center City’s Chinatown.  According to the 2010 Census results, the area more than doubled in population and added almost 1,000 market rate housing units.  And now, Chinatown is about to get vertical with its growth spurt as the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) plans to build the 23-story Eastern Tower Community Center.  
The Center, to be located in the northern reaches of Chinatown at 10th and Vine Streets, is an urban planner’s dream.  The building defines the meaning of mixed-use: retail and recreational space will be utilized on the first two floors, a two-story flexible community center, office space, a possible charter school, and 144 affordable housing units on floors six and up. To top it off, the tower will include a green roof, dwelling units will have operable windows, and silver LEED certification will be sought. Zoning is good to go, approvals have been met, and the PCDC plans to start construction early next year. 

To many, this building is seen as a culmination of the economic growth and overall progress made in Chinatown over the last decade. And it’s true; the Center will no doubt strengthen community values and bring people together in a facility not currently available in the neighborhood.  But on a broader level, Chinatown’s recent progress and the building of the Center is proof positive that ethnic enclaves and immigration are important assets to urban areas and prove to be economic boons for cities.    

Places like New York and San Francisco are intrinsically linked to their own Chinatowns, Italian Villages, and Koreatowns, and have long understood the relationship between them and how they promote economic growth.  Philadelphia, too, knows a thing or two about this phenomenon.  In South Philly, the famous Fabric Row along 4th Street was the commercial center of Philly’s early 20th- century Jewish community.  Originally known for its predominance of fabric and garment-related products, the area has diversified in use over the years yet remains a viable commercial corridor because of its ethnic roots, unique offerings, and associated sense of place characteristics.  

In the same era, a different wave of immigrants, this time Italian, formed an ethnic enclave of their own centered on nearby 9th Street.  Although this area wasn’t called The Italian Market until the 1970s, it earned its name from the start.  The street market featured Italian butchers, cheese shops, and other vendors that catered to the new Italian community in the area and offered niche products and experiences not found anywhere else.  Over the years, the district’s attitude towards immigrants has not changed and thus continued to thrive, more recently seeing an influx of Mexican, Vietnamese, Jewish, and Chinese vendors.    

Up in Chinatown, the same pattern seems to be occurring.  Spurred by the existence of a community banded together by their ethnic heritage, the area has done a bit of asset building and is diversifying.  According to Center City District, Chinatown has become significantly more economically diverse, showcased by a huge influx of ownership housing in an area known for its rental-tilt. 
While these successes showcase Philly’s historic and modern acceptance of immigrant populations and their unique cultural heritage, there is cause for concern that these attitudes are not prevailing.  Based on recent United States Office of Immigration statistics, Philly sits in the middle of the greatest immigrant destination in the United States: the Bos-Wash corridor.  And yet, Philly fails to crack the top 10 regions with the most naturalized citizens.  Meanwhile, New York, Boston, and Washington continue soaking up all the foreign awesomeness and associated economic growth. 

With their entrepreneurial spirit and zeal to succeed, immigrants have proven themselves to be economic initiators and jumpstarters for city economies.  Research has proven this trend time and time again and Philly has the historical examples to back it up.  And when the Eastern Tower Community Center is complete in 2015, a more modern, significantly taller, example of Philly’s history-in-the-making acceptance of immigrant populations will take shape.  Now if only the City can find a way to crack those top 10 lists and steal some of New York’s immigrant appeal, perhaps the tide will turn for other urban neighborhoods looking for a new niche all their own.        

Writer: Greg Meckstroth

Placemakers: Chinatown North, The Porch at 30th St., Race Street Pier will get even better

Three high-profile, transformational areas of the city received significant funding this week through ArtPlace, a new national collaboration of 11 major foundations, six of the nation’s largest banks and eight federal agencies (like the National Endowment for the Arts) that aims to accelerate creative placemaking.
In Philadelphia, there is an abundance of creative placemaking taking shape across the city.

The Asian Arts Initiative received $450,000 for the Chinatown North Social Practice Lab. The University City District took in $375,000 for The Porch at 30th Street Station. The City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy earned $200,000 for the Numen/For Use Public Art Project at Race Street Pier.

The Porch, a reclaimed parking between the nation’s second busiest train station and the site of the former U.S. Post Office building that opened late last fall, will use the funding for urban design upgrades and art installations for the half-acre public space. 

“The Porch has unparalleled potential as one of Philadelphia’s great public spaces,” says University City District’s Director of Planning and Economic Development Prema Katari Gupta in a news release. “Our early efforts to animate this space have been succeeding beyond our very high initial expectations.”

The Social Practice Lab aims to position Chinatown North as a “dynamic neighborhood site” for local and national visual and performing artists. The goal will be to create alliances that promote neighborhood development and strengthens community bonds.

The Numen/For Use Public Art Project is among the many ongoing efforts to activate the Delaware River Waterfront. Croatian-Austrian design collective Numen/For Use’s first U.S. project involves creating a large-scale interactive installation at Race Street Pier Park.

“The Philadelphia projects receiving ArtPlace funding exemplify the best in creative placemaking,” says Carol Coletta of ArtPlace, which awarded more than $15 million to 47 projects. “They demonstrate a deep understanding of how smart investments in art, design and culture as part of a larger portfolio of strategies can change the trajectory of communities and increase economic opportunities for people.”

Source: University City District
Writer: Joe Petrucci

City still encouraging homeowners to apply for proposed Homestead Exemption tax break

The City of Philadelphia's Actual Value Initiative (AVI) might be on hold until next fiscal year, but it is still banking on real estate tax relief in the form of proposed Homestead Exemption legislation. Homeowners must apply by July 31, 2012, and the only requirement for acceptance into the program is that the you must own your home and live in it. It's actually a very simple process. On July 1, says Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, Philadelphia homeowners will receive a pre-printed application, so there's no need to take action until then.

"It's a tax relief program that already exists in every other county in the Commonwealth," says Waxman, who points out that other efforts both statewide and nationwide are often far more complicated.

Age, income and length of homeownership do not figure into eligibility. Here's how it works: you will pay taxes on the value of your home minus $30,000.  For example, if a home is assessed at a value of $100,000 and there is a $30,000 Homestead Exemption,  a homeowner would only pay taxes based on $70,000 compared with the actual value of $100,000.

"The City is currently undertaking a reassessment which will value properties at their market value. For residential properties, the comparable sales method is utilized in most cases. For commercial properties, the income/expense method is utilized in most," explains Waxman. 

It does not matter if your home is worth $1 million or $80,000. You still get that flat $30,000 discount. Waxman says the greatest benefit will be for those with lower value homes. "It's the simplest program on the planet once we get it up and running."

The homestead real estate tax exclusion will be available for properties located within the City of Philadelphia when legislation is passed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and a City of Philadelphia ordinance also has to go into effect. But city officials are encouraging residents to apply now, as it can help reduce the taxable assessed value used for calculation of a tax bill by a proposed $30,000. 
Even if part of a primary residence is used as a home office or a rental property, a property owner may still be eligible to benefit from the Homestead Exemption for the percentage of the property that functions as the primary residence. 
Following approval, there's no need to reapply unless the deed to the home changes.

Applications received after the deadline for this year will be considered for tax year 2014. Those who are approved in this initial round will be notified in the fall of 2012, pending passage of AVI.

Source: Marisa Waxman, Office of Property Assessment, City of Philadelphia
Writer: Sue Spolan

Reading Terminal Market's $3M expansion offers new event space, vendors, restrooms

A ribbon-cutting was held on Monday for the $3 million renovation of Reading Terminal Market that adds 2,500 square feet of leasable floor space, new vendors, an event space and more public restrooms.
Phasing was key to the project, led by Friday Architects/Planners. Some of the renovation's most impactful details go largely unnoticed at the Market, housed since 1892 in a National Historic Landmark building and a major tourist attraction. Cold storage was relocated to the basement and operations and tool rooms were shifted to make the expansion possible. A new office mezzanine was constructed within a week despite the challenges of old floor surfaces and slope variation. Popular merchants like Dinic's Roast Pork, Spataros and Flying Monkey were moved to new locations in an effort to create spaces that were mroe functional and attractive.
"Yes, it's fun to build from the ground up, but it's also very exhilarating and challenging to take a historically existing space and augment it for the growing architectural needs as a result of its popularity," says Friday President Tony Bracali in a news release.
While the Avenue D portion of the Market was straightened and streamlined, the Rick Nichols room, named for the Philadelphia Inquirer food writer and longtime advocate for the Market, will serve as a multipurpose rental space for meetings, parties and other social gatherings. It features a folding glass door and a mural along the east wall depicting a timeline of Market milestones.
Another important change is the relocation of La Cucina at The Market, the site's demonstration kitchen, to a prominent location adjacent to the Nichols Room.
Friday is currently preparing designs for three of the five new merchants expected at the Market, including Valley Shepard Creamery, The Tubby Olive and Downtown Cheese.
Source: Friday Architects/Planners
Writer: Joe Petrucci

With success on the ground, Center City looks up for more office jobs, high-rise renovations

There are some richly exciting things happening with Center City residential, commercial, and transportation development, but there are also areas that beg for improvement. This was one of the takeaways from last week's panel, "The Next Cycle of Downtown Development," held by the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation (CPDC).  The program was moderated by CPDC and Center City District executive director Paul Levy, and featured executives at Liberty Property Trust, Brandywine Realty Trust, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), and the Parkway Corporation.

Levy delivered opening remarks that ought to have provoked optimism. These remarks served to preface the release of the Center City District's "State of Center City Report," which is expected this week. Levy defines the "Center City core" as being the neighborhoods between Vine and Pine St., while he ambitiously defines "Center City extended" as being the communities between Girard Ave. and Tasker St. Levy reports that residential prices in the "extended" Center City zone are quite healthy, with the average value being $310,446. 

The opening remarks contained more points of pride for those who live, work, take classes, shop, or play in the extended downtown. Levy saysthis area is second to only New York City in terms of the number of "cultural institutions." He adds that the hospitality sector is performing strongly in Center City, as job growth in this field "is outpacing the suburbs." Finally, Levy is ecstatic that sustainable transportation is becoming a more and more appealing alternative to driving for downtown inhabitants, as 74% of Center City "core" residents commute to work without a car.  

While the executive director's remarks accentuated the positives in both the core and extended parts of Center City, they also drew attention to the area's bleeding of high-rise office jobs. Levy says that 39% of private sector jobs in Center City are in office buildings, which is the highest percent of private sector employment. Even with population growth in Philadelphia and its suburbs, these Center City offices continue to lose jobs, even while offices in Radnor, Great Valley, and elsewhere are gaining positions.

After Levy wrapped up his report, the executives on the panel began discussing how the city can draw more office jobs. John Gattuso, the senior VP and regional director at Liberty Property Trust, hinted at a new office high-rise to be proposed within the next couple of years. He also mentioned that Three Franklin Plaza, which currently houses GlaxoSmithKline, will be undergoing a "significant" $30 million renovation, with the installation of new bathrooms and elevators, for when Glaxo moves out. This anticipates the building at 18th and Race "will be coming to market in 2014," says Gattuso.   

Joseph Coradino, president of PREIT, also imparted some nuggets of hope on the audience. While he spent considerable time talking about PREIT's suburban development, such as at the Cherry Hill Mall, he also said good things were in store for PREIT's Gallery at Market East. He said Philadelphia Media Network's move to 8th and Market coupled with the new digital sign allowance for Market East could signal a rebirth for the beleaguered strip. He expressed a desire to "activate The Gallery at the street level," which would mean opening sidewalk cafes at the mall. 

Sources: Paul Levy, Central Philadelphia Development Corporation; John Gattuso, Liberty Property Trust; Joseph Coradino, PREIT
Writer: Andy Sharpe

New pedestrian advocacy group's agenda includes improving intersections

When it comes to sustainable transportation around Philadelphia, pedestrians have been without an active group speaking on their behalf since PhillyWalks ended about a decade ago. While bicyclists have enjoyed advocacy from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and mass transit riders have been represented by the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, pedestrians have not found a similar voice recently. That is, until now. The Clean Air Council has just formed a pedestrian advocacy group, and is in the process of creating an agenda for those who travel with two feet on the pavement.

This new group, dubbed the "Pedestrian Advocacy Project," has met twice so far and has crowdsourced its agenda through the hundreds of people who are on its listserv, according to Dennis Winters, a trails associate at the Council who is leading the project. Winters says e-mail participants indicated the biggest problem facing pedestrians is that "red-green lights (are) not synced right." In other words, traffic lights around the Philadelphia area often favor motorists over pedestrians.

At the project’s second meeting, the 10 or so attendees largely agreed with the e-mail survey. They discussed intersections in Philadelphia, such as 20th and JFK Blvd., that are not as pedestrian-friendly as they believe they should be. Attendees arrived at the conclusion that pedestrian countdown signals and corresponding traffic lights should be re-timed to equalize the playing field between drivers and walkers. By the end of the evening, a committee had formed to study pedestrian countdown signals, and how they could be improved.

One prevailing question for the nascent advocacy group is whether pedestrian countdown signals themselves are to blame for diminishing the pedestrian experience, or whether bad behavior on the part of motorists is to blame. Deborah Schaaf, an employee of the City Planning Commission and a walker herself, says that police enforcement of aggressive driving had to be cut short due to lack of funds. In fact, police overtime money that was supposed to go to the "Give respect, get respect" campaign targeting vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian infractions instead went to Occupy Philly coverage.

The Pedestrian Advocacy Project’s online members also indicated that the presence of outdoor seating and other obstructions blocking sidewalks, traffic laws not being adequately enforced, and aggressive drivers turning left were other impediments for pedestrians. Most members of the listserv attended the Academy of Natural Sciences forum "Walkability: Philadelphia Strides into the Future," which was where the pedestrian advocacy group was unveiled. Given that just about everyone in Philadelphia walks, even if it is just to get to their car or train, this group could help a lot of people.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dennis Winters

Franklin Square's pavilion is now open; kids immediately party with Ben Franklin

Franklin Square celebrated the opening of its sixth season with a ribbon-cutting for The Pavilion at Franklin Square.

One lucky tot, Jason McKenzie, got to be the first person to have a party in the pavilion, as he celebrated his third birthday with Ben Franklin (aka Ralph Archbold).

Officials from Historic Philadelphia, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the William Penn Foundation (which funded the pavilion), and Starr Restaurants (which owns SquareBurger on the square) were on-hand. Check out our previous coverage here.

-- Andy Sharpe

Philly has 2,500 acres for urban farming, crop value of $10M-plus, says Green Space Alliance study

The Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex was filled with the redolent scents of artisanal cheese, creamy gelato, freshly-baked bread and biscotti, and premium steeped tea last Sunday. These scents formed the aromatic calling card for the Philly Farm and Food Fest, which was co-organized by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). One of the highlights of the convention was a panel discussion on the Green Space Alliance’s recent study “Transforming open space to sustainable farm enterprises.”

The panel discussion started with an outline of Green Space Alliance’s (GSA’s) findings, which include recommendations on public outreach, zoning and planning, and urban areas. One of the chief findings is that GSA should extend an arm to local governments, land trusts, and conservancies to generate knowledge about sustainable farming. Under zoning, the study concludes that specific ordinance definitions should be drafted, says Justin Keller, an architect with Simone Collins Landscape Architecture, which prepared the study for GSA. 

Finally, the study advises that incentives be created for urban farms that bolster stormwater management through the elimination of impervious surfaces. It specifically pinpoints urban farms as sources of sorely-needed nourishment in food deserts and job creators in neighborhoods with rampant unemployment. GSA found that the city of Philadelphia has nearly 2,500 acres that can be used for farming, which could yield a crop value between $6.4 and $10.8 million, says Peter Simone, also an architect with Simone Collins.

After Simone Collins presented the study, three panelists offered conference-goers some feedback. Nic Esposito, who farms at East Kensington’s Emerald St. Urban Farm, is interested in the study’s examination of municipal land, as his farm is owned by three different city agencies. While the study looks at both CSAs and farms that donate food, Esposito makes sure to mention that Emerald St. donates all the food it generates from chickens and bees. He also adds that Councilwoman Sanchez and Councilman Green’s land bank resolution in City Council would be an asset for urban farming on vacant land.

Another panelist was Joan Blaustein, chair of the Philadelphia Food Policy Council and a director in the city’s department of Parks and Recreation. Blaustein, who grows food in her own backyard garden, emphasizes the practical nature of urban gardening. Urban gardens “should satisfy the social needs of people in the city,” says Blaustein. She proceeds to give the city a pat on the back for emphasizing urban farms in its Greenworks plan and mentioning it in its new zoning code

The third panelist was Fred DeLong, a project director at the Willistown Conservation Trust and Rushton Farm in Chester County. DeLong differs from the other panelists in that his farm certainly isn’t urban. Nonetheless, he has a similar goal to the study and his fellow panelists. “Willistown Conservation Trust wants to connect people to the land,” says DeLong. He adds that within the trust is the Rushton Farm, which is a natural community-supported agriculture (CSA) within an 80-acre nature preserve.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Justin Keller, Peter Simone, Nic Esposito, Joan Blaustein, and Fred DeLong, panelists at Philly Farm and Food Fest

Illustration courtesy of Philly Farm and Food Fest   

Liberty Bike Share builds support, strategy to introduce long-awaited bike sharing program

What do New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Baltimore, Spartanburg SC, and Hollywood FL all have in common? Hopefully you’ll have an answer by the time I’m finished with this sentence. If you don’t, these are all East Coast cities that offer bike sharing. Notice that Philadelphia is not in there. With this in mind, a team from the University of Pennsylvania is looking to put our city on par with the likes of Spartanburg by establishing Liberty Bike Share, which aims to bring bike sharing to Center City, University City, South Philly, and the Temple University-area.

Liberty Bike Share is the product of three Masters degree candidates at UPenn who closely analyzed the 2010 Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) “Philadelphia Bike Share Concept Study,” says Dylan Hayden, who’s helping to organize the bike share concept. Hayden says Liberty is hoping to make 2,500-2,700 bicycles available to be shared at a cost of abougt $15 million. He adds that Liberty has the support of the Center City District and certain members of City Council. At this point, his group is waiting for the city’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) to issue an RFP. 

As is usually the case, the cost of setting up operations is one of the biggest challenges Liberty faces. Hayden emphasizes that his team is looking to solicit pledges from local hospitals, universities, insurance companies, and other private sector entities willing to chip in. He does admit that securing financial contributions in the Philadelphia-area can be “like squeezing a turnip.” On this note, MOTU has identified the up-front costs of bike sharing as one of its biggest worries. 

Hayden says his team hopes to implement Liberty Bike Share in two phases, with the first concentrating on Center and University Cities and the second extending the program up to Temple. Liberty has two companies in mind, Alta and B-Cycle, to operate the bike share. Alta operates the bike sharing programs in New York City, D.C., and Boston, while B-Cycle is responsible for bike sharing in Spartanburg, Chicago, Denver, and elsewhere. Hayden envisions charging members an annual fee of anywhere between $75 and $90.

The UPenn team hopes Liberty Bike Share will complement mass transit in Philadelphia. “We’re looking to deal with last-mile issues,” says Hayden, who’s talking about the distance between a transit or rail stop and someone’s final destination. Indeed, the Penn senior envisions a future where someone can (as an example) take a train to Market East Station and share a bike to get to their final destination. Hayden hopes to work with SEPTA to incorporate bike sharing in with their upcoming New Payment Technology.

Locally, only one borough offers bike sharing. That would be Pottstown, a borough with around 22,000 people in Western Montgomery County. Bike Pottstown, Pottstown's bike sharing program, is run by Zagster, which launched its bike sharing consultancy in Philadelphia under the name CityRyde before moving to Cambridge, Mass last year. Bike Pottstown is a free bike share, which has filled the streets of the borough with 15 eye-snatching yellow bicycles. 

Hayden is unequivocal about the benefits of bike sharing. “Bike sharing is a policy Swiss army knife,” he says. By this, he means it ameliorates a host of policy issues, including healthcare, sustainability, and mobility. He also says that the city already has much of the infrastructure in place to support bike sharing, including the 215 miles of bike lanes he cites. Bike sharing would provide Philadelphia an opportunity to catch up to other American cities, large and small.  

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: Dylan Hayden, Liberty Bike Share

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

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

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

New pavilion at Franklin Square to help people weather elements, celebrate and learn

Have you ever been strolling one of Center City's five squares on a frigid winter's day or a sweltering summer's day and suddenly had an urge for air conditioning or heat? If so, the group in charge of Franklin Square may have heard you. Historic Philadelphia Incorporated (HPI), which maintains Franklin Square, just broke ground on a pavilion that will provide protection from the elements and offer heat and air conditioning. The pavilion could be open as soon as New Year's Eve, depending on -- what else -- the weather. 

Cari Feiler Bender, who has been responsible for communications for Franklin Square since 2004, says the pavilion will be relatively small at 36 ft. by 36 ft. It will serve a variety of purposes, many of which are connected to it being indoors. First of all, the building will serve as a respite from extreme temperatures, rain, snow, and sleet. It will also act as "a flexible event space," says Bender. This could include presentations from historical re-enactors dressed as Ben Franklin or Betsy Ross as part of "Once Upon a Nation." HPI will provide audio and light hook-up, along with tables and chairs. 

The pavilion will also likely be available for birthday parties, wedding receptions, and other fetes. Bender elaborates by saying Stephen Starr would be a likely candidate to cater events in the pavilion. Starr has run SquareBurger in the park since 2009, which is the only permanent eating establishment inside any of the city's original five squares. Recognizing that not every birthday or wedding will be celebrated on a sunny 70-degree day, Bender emphasizes that this pavilion will accommodate year-round occasions. 

The construction of the pavilion will entail minimal disruption to the square's flora. Bender says there are a few large trees in the vicinity of the building site. "None of them will be removed or altered," says Bender. She reminds people that, while HPI takes care of Franklin Square, the city's Department of Parks and Recreation owns Franklin Square. The last thing Parks and Recreation would want to do is hew any trees. 

This pavilion will likely serve to further set Franklin Square apart from its peer parks in Philadelphia. In addition to SquareBurger, it already lays claim to a carousel, miniature golf course, and a memorial to deceased police officers and firefighters. All this for a square that many thought was left for dead just a decade ago.

Source: Cari Feiler Bender
Writer: Andy Sharpe

SEPTA's bus fleet to become more eco-friendly thanks to two grants

Despite a budget shortfall, SEPTA will be able to resume purchasing hybrid diesel-electric buses thanks to two grants from the US Department of Transportation. For the first time ever, SEPTA will purchase hybrid 60-foot accordion buses, which are the longest buses in the system. SEPTA’s current assortment of hybrid buses is about 30 percent more fuel efficient than equivalent clean diesel buses.

SEPTA is the beneficiary of $15 million in federal funds to cover the difference in cost between hybrid and clean diesel 60-foot buses. Luther Diggs, who’s in charge of operations at SEPTA, says it will stretch out the acquisition of these longer buses over four years, with the first year’s purchase entirely hybrid. Over the four years, SEPTA will be replacing 155 longer buses, with an option for 65 more. The percent of these that are hybrid will depend on how much more grant money becomes available. 

This opens the possibility that additional bus routes might see these longer buses. "We have some additional need for 60-foot buses," confirms Diggs. He suggests that the Route 47 bus, which was the subject of the failed skip-stop pilot and more successful attempts to speed it up, might end up seeing longer buses. Also, he hints that the extremely well-traveled Route 17 bus, which runs up and down 19th and 20th Sts. in South Philadelphia and across Center City, might be another new candidate for the 60-footers.

Shortly after the $15 million grant was announced, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced another grant of $5 million to pay for additional hybrid 40-foot buses, the most prevalent of SEPTA's fleet. This is welcome news for many local environmentalists, who earlier this year were dismayed to hear that funding difficulties meant SEPTA would cease acquiring standard-size hybrid buses. According to Diggs, SEPTA will resume purchasing these hybrid buses in 2013, and only purchase hybrid 40-foot buses in 2014. 

Diggs is convinced that hybrid buses represent the most financially sensible way for SEPTA to green its bus fleet. Diggs says SEPTA did examine running buses using compressed natural gas (CNG) in the mid-1990s. However, hybrid buses were ruled more effective than their CNG counterparts because of "infrastructure, residential neighborhoods, and cost," says Diggs. While some transit agencies in California and Texas use CNG, there are legitimate concerns about the cost of putting in CNG infrastructure and the health risks associated with natural gas.  

Source: Luther Diggs, SEPTA
Writer: Andy Sharpe 

Luxury apartments on forsaken block of Chestnut St. are filling up fast

After going on the market just four months ago, The Commonwealth luxury apartments at 12th and Chestnut Streets are rapidly being leased. In fact, three quarters of the apartments have now been signed for. This is despite its location on a stretch of Chestnut St that is known for abandoned storefronts, discount retail, and a constant feeling of being in the shadow of Walnut Street. Just a couple of weeks ago, a building smoldered at 12th and Chestnut.

Undeterred, SSH Realty is proud of what's been done with the old Commonwealth Title and Trust Building, which was built at the intersection of 12th St. in 1902. Carol Sano, the Senior Vice President of SSH's residential division, is in charge of the leasing push at the Commonwealth. She says the age of the building is a great thing for residents, since the "physical construction lends to what people call a quiet building." Sano says the building retains its old marble structure, which is useful to dull noise in an area that hears the din of ambulances heading to Jefferson Hospital.

One walk inside an apartment, and it's clear that luxury is not dead on Chestnut St. Apartments feature granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, capacious rooms, double paned windows, and hardwood floors. The lobby has an art deco theme, and denizens can use a state-of-the-art fitness facility. For the peace-of-mind of residents, there is a security guard stationed in the lobby 24 hours a day.

The Commonwealth is 15 stories tall, and features apartments that range in size from 524 to 1,065 feet. There are a mixture of one and two-bedroom and one and two-bathroom apartments. Despite what some people think about Chestnut St., Sano points to convenience and location as the Commonwealth's two greatest attributes. She boasts that the apartments are in close walking distance to Jefferson Hospital, universities, and SEPTA's Market East Station. In addition, Sano points to the Avenue of the Arts, bistros, and "funky boutiques" as also being within convenient ambling distance.

While the luxurious features and convenient location of The Commonwealth are two perks, Sano says the community within is what makes it such a nice place to live. Residents hail from across the country and throughout the world, and consist of medical students at Jefferson and young professionals who work in nearby office buildings. A recent trip to The Commonwealth found a nice camaraderie between residents, their dogs, building security, and management.

Source: Carol Sano, SSH Realty
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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