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Inquirer's Inga Saffron throws some shade at new Dilworth Park

As Flying Kite has reported, City Hall's Dilworth Park opened on September 4. Folks from around the city came out to get aquainted with Philadelphia's latest revamped public space.

Among those visitors was esteemed Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, and she was, well, slightly disappointed.

Dilworth's new comforts, which won't be complete until November, are undermined by an uptight and controlling sensibility...The new design was intended to be the polar opposite of the 37-year-old plaza, a hardscape extravaganza by the late Vincent Kling, the same midcentury modernist who exhausted a couple of quarries building LOVE Park, the Centre Square towers, and Municipal Services Building and its plaza. In place of Kling's tricky level changes, gratuitous barriers, shadowy hiding places and puffed-up monumentality, we now have a flat, multipurpose surface, wide-open views -- and a new kind of puffed-up monumentality. There are vast amounts of hardscape...

The aesthetic is all wrong for a city eager to remake itself for an expanding creative class...Yes, there is real magic when the fountain's jets of water shoot into action, but inactivated, the granite landscape is dry and stiff. The new Dilworth is a suit in a jeans-and-T-shirt world.

Saffron goes into details about her frustrations, which extend to the materials and a lack of greenery.

It sounds strange, but the designers' emphasis on perfection is suffocating. They bludgeon you with "high quality" materials that evoke the atmosphere of a slick corporate lobby. Five types of granite are used, ranging from speckled white to dark black, on the plaza surface.

Olin's sculpted benches, which are seductive and beautiful forms, also are granite. A wooden version, similar to Olin's design for nearby Lenfest Plaza, would have softened the official feel of the place. So would some additional shade, but all the greenery has been relegated to the periphery. The nicest spot is a small grove where the chairs have been arranged on crushed gravel rather than granite.

Maybe I spent too much time in beer gardens this summer, but I found myself longing for some of their laid-back, serendipitous vibe.

All that said, Dilworth Park remains a vast improvement over its gray, dreary, lurker-shielding predecessor. There's a cafe and interactive water feature; there is also ample space for public events, be it protests or concerts. And, it's a huge project completed thanks to a public-private partnership.

There is no doubt that this important civic space, once a smelly, run-down municipal embarrassment in the heart of Philadelphia, has been greatly improved by the Center City District's Paul Levy, who marshaled a dream team of Philadelphia's most renowned designers and engineers. The amenities, from the food vendor to the picnic lawn, are reason enough to applaud.

How about you? What do you think of the new Dilworth Park? Tweet us @flyingkitemedia or hit us up on Facebook.


Dilworth Park at City Hall to open September 4 with a weekend's worth of events

The rebuilding of Dilworth Plaza from a drab, inaccessible concrete slab encircling Philadelphia's City Hall into Dilworth Park, a green public space set to become one of Center City's most exciting outdoor areas, has been one of the most closely watched local development stories for three years now.
Finally, the $55 million project's official opening date has been made public. During an August 19 press conference, Center City District CEO Paul Levy announced that the park will be unveiled Thursday, September 4 at 11 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
As Flying Kite reported in late 2010, a 185-foot-wide programmable fountain operating on recycled rain water will be one of the park's centerpieces; it will be transformed into an ice skating rink during the winter months.
And because the 120,000-square-foot project's main mission has always centered on enhancing access to the nucleus of Philly's public transit system, it makes sense that two subway entrances made of glass -- and seemingly inspired by the Louvre Pyramid -- are architectural standouts as well.   
Perhaps the most exciting Dilworth update, though, involves Chef Jose Garces being attached to the cafe that will sit in the Plaza's northwest corner. The breakfast-all-day eatery will be similar to Garces' Rosa Blanca and offer light Cuban-inspired fare.
Although roughly 10 percent of the project's construction won't be complete for another six to eight weeks, an entire weekend's worth of events will celebrate its opening, beginning with an all-day arts and culture festival on September 4.

Click here for a complete list of the weekend's scheduled performances and events.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Center City District

Architectural renderings courtesy of OLIN and KieranTimberlake


Nominations now being accepted for Philly's 2014 Storefront Challenge

As executive director of The Merchants Fund (TMF), a local nonprofit that provides assistance to business owners facing financial hardship, Patricia Blakely is one of a handful of peer reviewers who sit on the judging committee of the Storefront Challenge, a retail design competition that recognizes storefront façade improvement projects throughout the city.

"Your façade is the single most important advertising expense you will ever [absorb] for your company," Blakley explains, echoing the advice she gives to business owners. "It [either] says, 'Come in,' or 'Go away.' A ratty, ugly front window with lots of signs pasted in it and no lighting just doesn't say, 'Come in and spend money with me.'"
And that's the Storefront Challenge in a nutshell. The competition, which happens once every two years, is a joint program of the Philadelphia Commerce Department and the Community Design Collaborative.

Although its larger purpose involves local economic development via the beautification of retail spaces, the event was initially launched as an effort to bring wider attention to the Commerce Department's Storefront Improvement Program (SIP), which provides cash grants to help business owners improve their facades.
Storefront Challenge winners are chosen via a nomination process, and the rules couldn't be simpler: Through Monday, September 15, anyone can nominate a renovated Philadelphia storefront that was completed between October 2012 and November 2014.

And as Blakely points out, thanks to the Challenge's seven separate categories (Creative Sign; Window Display, etc.), even simple, low-cost improvement projects have a chance to win.

"Literally, paint can be transformative," she explains. "[As] can a simple sign, [or] a great awning with some lighting."
The winning façades will be recognized during a special Design Philadelphia event at the Center for Architecture (1 - 3 p.m. Tuesday, October 14). Click here to nominate a business. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Patricia Blakely, The Merchants Fund


Opening any day now: The Yachtsman, Philly's only Tiki bar

"I've always had a deep love for theme bars and Tiki bars," says Tommy Up (née Updegrove), proprietor of Northern Liberties' PYT burger bar and Emmanuelle, a nearby cocktail parlor. "As a kid, we would visit all kinds of interesting themed-out restaurants. I'm sure that played a big role in my love for Tiki culture."
With help from his business partner Sarah Brown, Up's lifelong fascination with themed eating and drinking is now just days away from becoming a major aspect of his professional life. The Yachtsman, a classic Polynesian-themed Tiki bar currently rising from the ashes of an old Irish pub on the corner of Frankford Avenue and West Jefferson Street in Fishtown, should be open for business in a week or two.  
According to Up, the new establishment had its genesis in a conversation last summer with two Emmanuelle bartenders who also happen to be serious Tiki enthusiasts. That chat eventually led to the signing of a 15-year lease on a century-old building.

When a series of critical structural issues were discovered during the renovation -- and The Yachtsman's budget was nearly blown -- Up and Brown turned to Kickstarter in an effort to recoup their losses. They raised nearly $40,000 in a month.

"In a sense the [success of] the Kickstarter backfired, because we had to double-down and make the bar way better than it was originally going to be," quips Up.
The Yachtsman's drink menu will feature 12 cocktails, mostly new takes on Tiki classics. The small space will also be packed with vintage Tiki accoutrements.

"A lot of thought went into doing the job that a Tiki bar is supposed to do," explains Up. "Transport you onto a mini-vacation while you're still inside the city." 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Tommy Up
, The Yachtsman

Pipeline, a Miami-based co-working firm, is opening an outpost in Philadelphia

A Miami-based co-working firm, Pipeline, is opening a Philadelphia outpost in Center City this November. The 21,000-square-foot Pipeline Philadelphia, as the facility has been dubbed, will occupy two floors in the Graham Building at 15th and Chestnut Streets in Center City.

But don't expect Pipeline's local outpost to resemble any of the DIY-influenced co-working spaces that have popped up here in recent years. The company's Miami branch -- known as Pipeline Brickell -- is a highly polished environment offering reception services and private suites starting at $849 a month. According to CEO Todd Oretsky, Pipeline also isn't one of those shared corporate office spaces that tend to price out anyone lacking an expense account. The company aims to foster an especially diverse work space, one where established business professionals and startup entrepreneurs can find themselves collaborating.

"There's a big differentiator between us and other co-working spaces," says Oretsky. "We think integrating people in the tech community and the startup world alongside active professionals leads to the highest likelihood of success."
To facilitate that community, Pipeline Philly plans to offer a wide schedule of events, including lectures and educational seminars featuring thought leaders; many will be free to the general public. All the better to facilitate the office's all-important philosophy of cooperative congregation.

"We are very high-design," adds Oretsky. "We have price points that can work for a blogger or a member of a large international corporation. And those two people benefit from knowing each other."
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Todd Oretsky, Pipeline  


The Oval returns to the Parkway for a second season

If you've already whiled away a pleasant evening or three this summer at the pop-up Spruce Street Harbor Park but haven't yet stopped by the reimagined Eakins Oval at the center of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, you'll want to consider making room in your schedule for a visit.
Officially dubbed The Oval, the temporary eight-acre public space sits directly in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It popped up last summer, and following a number of spring and fall events, celebrated its seasonal return to the Parkway in mid-July.
For the next four weeks (through August 17) the color-saturated urban play space will be home to a huge schedule of free events, activities and community programming. There will be fitness boot camps and yoga classes; Quizzo contests and film screenings; Tai Chi lessons and DJ nights. And along with a monster-sized chess board, a ping-pong table and a mini-golf course (all free!), The Oval also features a rotating cast of food trucks and a beer garden built from reclaimed construction materials.    
The Oval's "has been very, very successful," says Colleen Campbell of the Fairmount Park Conservancy. "It's been tremendously well-received."
And although last summer's beach theme was popular with park-goers, this year the design is different. Local artist Candy Coated was commissioned by the Association for Public Art to transform The Oval into a whimsical space with a magic carpet motif.

"It's very fanciful, and it's very bright," explains Campbell. "Aside from our programming, it's just a fun piece of art to interact with."

The Oval is open 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Wednesday - Friday; noon - 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Source: Colleen Campbell, Fairmount Park Conservancy
Writer: Dan Eldridge

Restaurant incubator Common Table coming to West Philly

A little over two years ago, the West Philadelphia-based Enterprise Center celebrated the opening of its 13,000-square-foot Center for Culinary Enterprises (CCE), a shared incubator space where retail food entrepreneurs without a commercial kitchen facility of their own could set up shop.
The CCE has since become a powerful resource among the city's start-up retail food community; click here and here to read previous Flying Kite reports on the venture.
Around the time of the CCE's launch, Bryan Fenstermaker of the Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation (TEC-CDC) began receiving feedback that a different community of culinary entrepreneurs -- would-be restaurant owners -- was also interested in acquiring start-up assistance. So a plan was hatched to create Common Table, a restaurant incubator that will offer technical, financial and managerial assistance.
Common Table is currently being constructed inside one of the CCE's three retail spaces at South 48th and Spruce Streets. It will feature a rentable 40-seat pop-up restaurant for amateur or experienced chefs who would like to take their culinary creations public. The restaurant space is scheduled to open this fall.
In the meantime, an application process opened two weeks ago for a 6 to 12 month fellowship that will test the brick-and-mortar restaurant concepts of six to nine participants. The selection process will involve a business plan submission and a tasting competition judged by local culinary heavyweights.
Applications for the Common Table Fellowship can be accessed at commontablephilly.com.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Allina Yang, TEC-CDC

A neighborhood business complex -- complete with brewery -- could come to Pennsport

Flying Kite has spilled a decent amount of (virtual) ink in the last few months on the various issues surrounding the future of one of South Philadelphia's most important thoroughfares, Washington Avenue. But a recent Pennsport community meeting to discuss a proposed mini-business complex has us wondering why the wide and tree-lined Moyamensing Avenue hasn't been part of that conversation as well. (Moyamensing runs at an angle from Christian Street down to Snyder Avenue.) 
"There's plenty of housing in the neighborhood, but there really aren't that many amenities," says architect Alex Duller of FUSA Designs. Duller, along with Brandon Fox of MSCretail, hopes to change that. The pair presented plans at the aforementioned meeting for a small commercial complex of seven businesses on the corner of Moyamensing and Moore Streets.
According to Duller, talks are already underway with the owners of a coffee shop, a yoga studio, a specialty food grocer and an ice cream parlor. Duller and Fox also hope to bring in a restaurant, but for the time being, only one local business owner -- Sean Mellody of Mellody Brewing -- has signed a letter of intent.
Mellody hopes to offer limited onsite sales and open a tasting room inside the brewery. But, as Duller explains, none of the development plans can move forward unless the complex's buildings -- currently zoned for single-family residential use -- are rezoned as mixed commercial structures.
"Right now, no one's willing to sign a letter of intent based on the fact that [the space] is still zoned for single-family," he says.
Duller and Fox will present their plan to the Zoning Board of Adjustment at the end of July. If the re-zoning passes, groundbreaking could commence as early as spring 2015.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source:  Alex Duller, FUSA Designs

Spectacular Graduate Hospital lofts carved out of former Catholic chapel

At the intersection of Fitzwater Street and Grays Ferry Avenue in Graduate Hospital, a 125-year-old former Catholic chapel has been adapted into 30 loft-style homes and eight apartments. They are now leasing.
Known as Sanctuary Lofts -- and most recently occupied by the congregation of St. Matthew Baptist Church -- the structure was one of 20 Philadelphia sites that appeared on the 2011 list of endangered historical properties released by Save Our Sites, an urban preservationist group. At the time, the church's congregation feared the building would be demolished to make way for housing if it were sold.  
Instead, the site was purchased by Barzilay Development, a local firm specializing in the adaptive reuse of old buildings. According to Alon Barzilay, the firm's founder and CEO (and son of former Toll Brothers president and COO Zvi Barzilay), the renovated loft spaces will be rich in intricately preserved details such as exposed marble and salvaged hardwood floors. Even some of the church's pews are being repurposed.
"I basically give people historic buildings, but with contemporary features," say Barzilay, describing his adaptive construction philosophy, "from granite countertops to stainless steel appliances to European cabinetry."     
Rents start at around $1,200 for a one-bedroom loft. Many of the project's most impressive features can be seen simply by viewing the church's exterior. A 128-foot granite clock tower is the jewel of the building -- it earned its 15 minutes of fame after appearing in director M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense. Also impressive are the church's stained-glass windows and its distinctive red door; an outdoor garden courtyard with church pew seating will be completed soon.
A model unit is currently available for viewing; visit sanctuary-lofts.com for photos and to read about the church's history.
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Alon Barzilay, Barzilay Development

Pennsport's Pier 68 will include options for play, aquatic education and even fishing

If you've ever been brave enough to undertake a shopping excursion at the South Philly Walmart Supercenter on a weekend, there's a decent chance you ended up parking your car way out in the far-eastern hinterlands of the lot, right next to the Delaware River.

Assuming you took a minute to soak up your surroundings, you may have noticed a concrete pier jutting into the Delaware, overgrown with weeds and protected by a fence topped with razor wire and sporting a "No Trespassing" sign. That's Pier 68, and it certainly doesn't look like much today.
But come this time next year, following a $1.7 million facelift by Studio Bryan Hanes, not only will it have become the new southern trailhead for the Central Delaware Trail, it will have been transformed into a feature-rich pier park boasting amenities ranging from a tree-shaded picnic grove to an angled lawn designed for sunbathing to a water-side walk suitable for fishing.   
On June 26, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DWRC) publically unveiled the pier park's design at a press conference attended by Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Mark Squilla and other local leaders.

"This is about getting to the waterfront," says Deputy Mayor for Commerce and Economic Development Alan Greenberger, who pointed out that Pier 68 will merely be the latest in what is becoming a string of pier parks along the Delaware. "And this pier," he adds, "has got a very special character."
Along with an entrance deck, a grove of trees and a selection of native aquatic plants, the park's highlight will be a 4.5-foot cut in the pier's surface that will allow the tidal activity of the Delaware to be viewed up-close. Visitors will cross the cut atop a road-and-cable bridge.
For development updates, visit the DRWC's Pier 68 website

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Michael Greenlee, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation

Drexel will share its expertise with the community at new Dornsife Center

Following two years of fundraising, brainstorming and community meetings, Drexel University is celebrating the grand opening of its Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships. On June 12, the school cut the ribbon on the 1.3 acre site.
The genesis of the three-building complex -- located at 35th and Spring Garden Streets -- was a $10 million donation from Dana and David Dornsife, an active philanthropist couple. (Dana is a Drexel alum.)

According to Lucy Kerman, the school's vice provost of university and community partnership, university extension centers -- in which the collective expertise of a school is used to solve problems and otherwise assist the local community -- have a rich history dating back to the late-19th century. The Dornsife Center has the potential to become "a place where every single college and school [at Drexel] could be engaged with the community in shared problemsolving," she says.
Programming has already begun. Drexel’s law school students, for example, have been fulfilling their pro bono requirements by offering free legal services at the Dornsife Center. And, as Kerman points out, "We've got folks in English who could be running a writers house. We have folks in engineering who might do weatherization. We have a wonderful set of health sciences programs, and we could be doing screenings."
In the meantime, a community advisory council that was formed prior to the site’s renovation is continuing to meet monthly; its input will play a role in the programs and services offered in the future.
"[At Drexel], there are lots of different kinds of expertise," explains Kerman. "Working together with community partners, we feel that we have an opportunity to do something really special."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Lucy Kerman, Drexel University

PIDC awarded $38 million in tax credits to develop distressed neighborhoods

For the third time in five years, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) has been awarded a multimillion-dollar allocation in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) from the U.S Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund.

PIDC received a total of $110 million in NMTC allocations in 2009 and 2012; the latest award will add an extra $38 million to the organization’s coffers.
Created by Congress in late 2000, the goal of the NMTC program is to bring private investment dollars to low-income and distressed neighborhoods by providing developers with federal tax credits. The application process is competitive -- only 87 organizations received allocations from the most recent round, which totaled $3.5 billion in NMTC awards.  
Ultimately, the hope is that the allocations will stimulate a level of private investment even greater than the initial credit. Here in Philadelphia, that goal is being met. A total of $239 million in private sector investment resulted from the $110 million previously allocated via PIDC. And that’s to say nothing of the 950 jobs created thanks to those projects.
The mixed-use Oxford Mills apartment-and-office facility in Fishtown, for instance -- which was the subject of a 2013 New York Times feature -- was a recipient of PIDC’s previous allocations. So too was the NewCourtland LIFE Center, a senior health and wellness center that sits on a long-vacant former brownfield site.
As for what will come of PIDC’s 2013 award, Marketing and Communications Director Jessica Calter says it’s a bit too early to tell.

"We do have a pipeline of projects to utilize our $38 million allocation," she says. "But at this point I can’t talk about any specifics."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Jessica Calter, PIDC

Sneak Peak: Progress at Pier 53

This past weekend, Philadelphians were offered a sneak peak of Pier 53, an ambitious waterfront renovation project at the foot of Washington Avenue. Flying Kite headed down there on Saturday to snap some pictures and take in the gorgeous views of the Delaware. 

A joint venture between the Friends of Washington Avenue Green and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), the project will not only add green space to city, but also memorialize the immigration station that operated on the pier starting in 1876. At one point, Pier 53 processed up to 1,500 immigrants per day. (Click here for more on the history of the immigration station.)

After checking out the under-construction space, we walked north to check out progress at Spruce Street Harbor Park. That fabulous installation opens to the public on Friday, June 27. Barges boasting loungers and picnic tables, dozens of hammocks, and beach-like dunes are already in place -- it's a can't miss.

For more outdoor summer fun, check out The Visit Philly Beer Garden Series.

Writer: Lee Stabert


Upcoming Plenty Caf� in Queen Village will be the local mini-chain's largest location yet

In a city that has gone from fine-dining desert to a veritable foodie paradise in the space of a decade, building a gourmet café chain that captures the interest of the city is anything but easy.
And yet that's exactly what brothers Anthony and Damon Mascieri are accomplishing with Plenty Café, their quick-service sandwiches-and-coffee cafe known for its use of natural, organic and local ingredients. The majority of the menu is inspired by the brothers' international travels.  
After opening the original Plenty Café on East Passyunk in 2012, and then following up with a bi-level Rittenhouse Square location soon after, the Mascieris have announced the launch of a third location. Due to open in summer 2015 at South Fifth and Monroe Streets in Queen Village, the new café will feature a specialty coffee bar and rotating menu.
The Mascieris have made a habit of purchasing each of the buildings in which their cafes reside and then developing residential real estate on the floors above. The Queen Village location will feature nine luxury apartments that Damon's firm, Mascieri Group, will put on the market around the same time the café opens its doors.     
"This location is definitely going to be the biggest of the three," says Anthony. "And being that it's on a corner [lot], we're really going to take advantage of all the window space. We'll do really extensive outdoor seating, and add a lot of greenery and other things to make it a really attractive destination for lunch."     
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Sources: Anthony and Damon Mascieri, Plenty Café 

PWD commissions medallions and manhole covers to celebrate clean water infrastructure

The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) has announced the winner of a recent design competition, Uncover the Green, in which university-level art students were challenged to develop a decorative medallion to appear near the city's green infrastructure projects. Tyler School of Art student Lauren Hoover came out on top.
The students were also tasked with designing a new manhole cover for the city. As with the medallions -- which will be inset into city sidewalks -- PWD hopes the eye-catching manhole covers will spotlight green infrastructure projects.          
The competition was developed as a visibility effort for PWD's Green City, Clean Waters plan, a $2.4 billion initiative to manage the area's watershed and control its sewer overflow for the next 25 years. 

Accoding to PWD's Tiffany Ledesma Groll, "no other city is investing in green infrastructure in the way that Philadelphia is." 

"We want to make sure the city's investments in green infrastructure are visible, because our stormwater trees look like regular trees, and our rain gardens -- they look like gardens," she explains. "We needed to figure out a way to make them stand out."

The city hopes to have the medallions fabricated and in the ground within a year -- they may eventually appear next to every green infrastructure project in the city, according to Groll. (Currently, 756 such projects have been completed or are in-progress.) Due to cost restrictions, it's unclear when the newly-designed manhole covers will be produced. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Tiffany Ledesma Groll, Philadelphia Water Department
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