Monday, August 12, 2013

Food Economy Projects and News

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Things have been busy recently, between my consulting projects and my book release. Progress is moving along well with American Communities Trust and the Baltimore Food Hub, and I'm working on a number of other projects as a Senior Advisor with Econsult Solutions. While my projects are diverse, involving real estate and economic development, much of my practice continues to focus on the food economy. Here are some featured projects I would like to share with you.
All best, Greg
New Report - U.S. Kitchen Incubators: An Industry Snapshot

Greg was lead author on a recent Econsult Solutions report "U.S. Kitchen Incubators: An Industry Snapshot." Over 135 kitchen incubators exist in the U.S., and during the past five years a significant number of new kitchen incubators have opened around the country, prompting the need for this national survey. Kitchen incubators are shared-use commercial kitchens, often with supportive services for early-stage culinary businesses. The purpose of this research is to inform operators of existing and planned kitchen incubators to better understand national models and approaches to culinary micro-enterprise development.
Check out this article by Next City on the Econsult Solutions report.
Lots of Press for the Baltimore Food Hub

Greg serves as the project manager withAmerican Communities Trust for the Baltimore Food Hub -- a planned 3.5-acre campus of facilities, services, and programs focused on enhancing Baltimore’s local food economy. The project includes a kitchen incubator, canning commissary, urban farming, workforce development and educational spaces, farm stand, and community gardens. The project will bring new life to beautiful historic buildings, play a major role in revitalizing East Baltimore, and create jobs and opportunities for the neighborhood, while serving as an asset that will benefit the city and region.
Check some out recent media coverage of the project:

Cincinnati Kitchen Accelerator Feasibility Study

Greg was the lead on Econsult Solutions' “kitchen accelerator feasibility study” for the Corporation for Findlay Market in Cincinnati, supported by the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation. The study concluded that Cincinnati can support a kitchen accelerator, and that there appears to be substantial unmet demand for such a project, as well as significant interest and enthusiasm from entrepreneurs and other stakeholders. Further, a kitchen accelerator appears to be badly needed in Cincinnati, and could fill an important void in efforts to develop the local food economy, empower micro-entrepreneurs, and support new jobs. Read about the project here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Revisiting Ed Bacon's Legacy and the Future of Planning in Philly

Revisiting Ed Bacon's Legacy and the Future of Planning in Philly 

A recent biography of Philadelphia’s most famous urban planner, Ed Bacon, has refreshed a discussion about the role of planning in Philadelphia. Known for his work on urban renewal, Bacon left his mark on the city in ways both good and bad. Now, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger fills the role of chief city planner, with an equally demanding job of overseeing economic development. Greenberger and Greg Heller, author of "Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia" will look at whether urban planning still drives development in the city. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Inga Saffron will moderate. This event is hosted by Next City.

Note, this event was rescheduled from its original date. It will now be held on Tuesday, July 30th from 5:30-7:00 PM at Fleisher Art Memorial (719 Catharine St, Philadelphia). More info.
Recent Book Reviews

Recent reviews of "Ed Bacon" are starting a fresh conversation around Bacon's legacy and the future role of urban planning in America.

Summer Book QuarterlyPhiladelphia City Paper (by Bryan Bierman)
- "Edmund Bacon, doer,The Philadelphia Inquirer (by Inga Saffron)
"The Philadelphia Story," Architect (by Ben Adler)
"Ed Bacon" Featured on WHYY

Greg Heller was interviewed by Dave Heller on WHYY's NewsWorks Tonight in a segment titled "Edmund Bacon, architect of modern Philadelphia, and champion of skateboarders." The interview aired on the radio and is available online. Listen to the interview here.
Book Talks in Philadelphia & Baltimore

Many thanks to the great venues that hosted successful "Ed Bacon" book talks over the past month, including theAthenaeum of PhiladelphiaCenter for Architecture's Building Philadelphia Lecture Series, Franklin Inn Club, and D Center Baltimore's Design Conversation at Windup Space. If your organization would like to host a book talk, please contact Greg Heller.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Future of Public Space

By Greg

On May 22nd, Paine’s Park will open along Schuylkill River Trail, just below the Art Museum, providing a new venue for skateboarding—long-promised by the City after it banned boarding at LOVE Park in 2002. However, anyone who expects a fenced-in lot with ramps and half-pipes will be surprised. Instead what awaits is the kind of familiar urban plaza we may seek in order to sit on a bench and read a book. The big difference is that Paine’s is a plaza built to accommodate and welcome skateboarders as well as other uses. This fact makes the park an experiment of a new type of urban space that could be the way of the future.

In 2002 the City started stringently enforcing a skateboarding ban in LOVE Park, the downtown plaza at the eastern end of the Parkway. This was significant because by that point LOVE had become an international skateboarding destination. The X Games—the Olympiad of extreme sports—came to Philadelphia two years in a row, in part because of the fame of LOVE Park. However, just before the X Games opened in 2002 the City renovated LOVE Park to make it unskateable, and stationed a police officer to keep boarders out. California-based DC Shoes rushed to Philly to film a commercial at LOVE Park to market its skateboarding shoe label just before the park closed for renovations.

After enduring much protest and letter writing opposing the skateboarding ban, the City decided to support the creation of a new skatepark at the foot of the Art Museum. Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund was established around this project, headed by the skateboard-toting, law-degree holding, Josh Nims. Franklin’s Paine worked with a creative team led by architect Tony Bracali, now of Friday Architects. The City Planning Commission choreographed a thoughtful public process to design a park that could work for both skaters and the general public. A team of numerous others guided the ambitious fundraising effort that has finally come to fruition.

The team behind Paine’s insisted that the end result not be a fenced-in skatepark, but a space that imitates the successes of LOVE, as a public plaza that also allows skateboarding. This design decision reflects a change in the face of skateboarding—a multi-billion-dollar sport that has shifted from daredevil tricks on ramps, to favoring lower-impact moves on naturally occurring elements in the urban landscape—benches, ledges, stairs. This international trend, dubbed “street skating,” birthed a distinctively urban pastime, destined to run into challenges when boarders and traditional park users intersected.

Some take the view that skateboarding cannot be compatible in the same space as dog walkers, newspaper readers, and stroller pushers. Across the country, cities and towns outlawed skateboarding on public plazas due to fears that skateboarding will damage public parks or get in the way of other park users. However, this may prove to be an increasingly outdated view.

Some prominent designers believe that skateboarding can and should be allowed on public spaces. In the 1960s LOVE Park was designed by architect Vincent Kling, and imagined and promoted by city planning director Ed Bacon. In 2002 Bacon rode a skateboard in LOVE Park in protest of the city’s ban on the sport, at age 92. Kling was also there, and he told the press, “I built this place so that people could enjoy it. And that includes skateboarders.” Bacon and Kling recognized that although they had designed the park for one set of uses, new uses inevitably evolve in a dynamic city, and those uses should be embraced.

The Paine’s Park designers, Bracali and Nims, worked with skateboarders to analyze how they use public space, and created a plaza that includes dimensions and shapes that are friendly for skating, utilizing materials to reduce the damage, and taking care to mediate potential areas of conflict between different types of park users. At the end of the day, the approach adopted by Bacon and Kling, Bracali and Nims is the right one. It is the responsibility of designers to embrace new and exciting uses of public space, and to find ways to design the next generation of plazas to accommodate those uses. There are “skateable plazas” in other cities, but perhaps none as thoughtfully planned and executed as Paine’s Park.

I hope the Paine’s Park experiment is successful, and the City becomes comfortable adapting other public spaces to accommodate skateboarding. Skating is, by no means, the first new use to change the demands on our public spaces. The lesson is that we need innovative designers and landscape architects who can break free of the stodgy past, and embrace a more dynamic view for designing successful public spaces in the 21st century. Only then will our public spaces fully represent the desires of the public.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"Ed Bacon" Latest News and Events

Book Launch May 16th
The official book launch is this Thursday, May 16th from 6:00-7:30 PM at the Center for Architecture (1218 Arch Street, Philadelphia). The event is free and open to the public. It will include a book signing and reception with light refreshments.Please RSVP here.
Upcoming Events and Book Talks
On June 26th, Next City is hosting a discussion with Greg Heller and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, moderated by architecture critic Inga Saffron, on Bacon's legacy and the future of planning in Philadelphia. More info here. Other upcoming book talks and events will take place at Reading Terminal Market, the Philadelphia Athenaeum, and the Franklin Inn Club. A full schedule of events can be foundhere.
Check Out New Book Reviews 
Hidden City recently ran a great review of "Ed Bacon" by Nathaniel Popkin. Other reviews and articles ran in thePhiladelphia Weekly PressFlying Kite Media, and Wesleyan Connection. A complete list of media coverage can be foundhere.
Packed House in Cincinnati
On May 1st Greg Heller gave a book talk at the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati, to a packed house of over 50 people. Many thanks to the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation and the Mercantile Library for setting up this great event!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fixing Communities and Schools Together
(or Busing Is So 1980s)

By Greg

An article in Sunday’s New York Times magazine by Adam Davidson describes how low-income families rent apartments in Greenwich so that their kids can attend the town’s excellent public schools—spending their days cavorting with children of the rich and well-educated. The article cites “new research” that “suggests economic integration may be the answer” to improving the academic achievement of poor students.

While other factors are equally if not more important (such as teacher quality), there is plenty of research to back up this assertion that economic integration in schools really matters. For example, a July 2009 report from the Urban Institute lists as one of its four key principals: “Low-income children beneļ¬t from the resources and learning environment available at schools that also serve middle- and higher-income families.”

The question, though, is how best to develop economically integrated schools. Davidson’s solution is to transport kids out of poor schools into wealthier districts. The article explains, “poor kids at wealthier schools could do better; low-income schools could focus on fewer students; wealthier schools could receive subsidies and benefit from diversity.”

But this solution is not new and it’s not innovative. For at least four decades, districts have been “busing” students as a way of diversifying schools and providing enhanced choice.

Davidson’s article does not delve into the real issue, which is that community schools represent the economics of their neighborhoods. We have schools where over 70% of students are receiving free-and-reduced lunch because the majority of households in that school’s community are very poor. We can airdrop poor kids from one community to another, but instead shouldn't the real response be to improve the economic diversity of poor neighborhoods?

If we accept that economic integration is key to improving school performance, then we need to stop looking at these issues in silos. We need to refocus the dialogue on how to improve communities and schools together. We want schools that are integrated because their neighborhoods are integrated—not because we bused a bunch of students from the Bronx.

The Urban Institute report briefly addresses this point, stating, “it is possible to create effective, mixed-income schools in previously poor neighborhoods, attract nonpoor families, and improve school quality for the neediest children.” There are certainly examples of organizations focusing on investment in schools and communities together (Harlem Children’s Zone, University of Pennsylvania’s West Philadelphia Initiative, East Baltimore redevelopment). Often these approaches are controversial, rife with debates about privatizing public education or powerful institutions becoming agents of gentrification.

But the fact that there are so few significant examples of major community-school reinvestment approaches, and that they are so controversial tells me that we have not yet gotten it right. We need more focus on these types of approaches, not less. It is unconscionable that we have high-poverty communities, and it is even worse that we have failing schools perpetuated by their place-based socio-economic segregation. These problems are attached at the hip—so let’s look at them together.

We can send a handful of kids from the Bronx to New Rochelle, but let’s be smarter than to think this approach a long-term strategy for success.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Philadelphia Snapshot, a Complex Story

By Greg

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released its annual State of the City report. It’s an attractive, easy-to read shapshot of our city and region. Having a report like this is helpful for measuring progress and comparing the city to its peers, and Philadelphia is lucky to have an organization with deep pockets willing to assemble it.

However, studying the snapshot gives us some serious reasons for pause. The story is not a clear-cut tale of prosperity and growth, or of poverty and decline. Instead it is a complex story of seemingly contradictory indicators of a growing city on the move, but one that still faces challenges more daunting than many comparison cities.

First the good news. Philadelphia is growing, gaining population steadily each year. Our regional economy is the seventh largest in the nation, with its metro area’s GDP outpacing San Francisco, Boston, and Atlanta. Philadelphia’s median household income has increased between 2006 and 2011. Our cost of living in Philly is now higher than that of Chicago.

The region’s average number of tourists per year has risen 37 percent over the last decade. Both the number of major crimes and violent crimes have dropped in the past decade. Home sales are increasing in 2012, and the annual number of residential building permits issued is back at pre-recession levels. Between 2010 and 2012, the city saw an 18 percent increase in median home prices, overall.

At the same time, however, at $34,207 Philadelphia’s median income is below Baltimore and Pittsburgh. There is a bigger difference in median income between Philadelphia and Chicago than there is between Philadelphia and Detroit. With unemployment, the outlook is even bleaker. Philadelphia’s rate of 10.7 in 2012 was higher than every comparison city except Detroit. Philadelphia ranks way below both the national average and the big-city average for public school students proficient in reading and math. Only 13 percent of public schools make “adequate yearly progress,” and just 23.6 percent of Philadelphians are college graduates, ranking us below Phoenix, Baltimore, Houston, and Pittsburgh.

Perhaps most distressing is that Philadelphia’s poverty rate saw an 86 percent increase between 2004 and 2011. At 28.4 percent our poverty rate is now higher than those in Baltimore, Houston, and Pittsburgh. To quote the Pew study: “Among the nation’s 25 largest cities, only Detroit has a higher poverty rate than Philadelphia.”

In 2007 the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board put out a report titled “A Tale of Two Cities,” explaining, “There are two Philadelphias growing further and further apart. One is
prospering in the new economy; the other is falling behind. The promise of our future can only be realized if Philadelphia moves forward together.” This statement perhaps holds even truer today, six years later.

There are many reasons to be excited about Philadelphia. Over the past decade I have seen an incredible transformation of Center City and many surrounding neighborhoods. Philly is decidedly now a place where people want to live, competitive with other Northeast destination cities (approximately 25,000 people moved from New York to Philadelphia between 2006 and 2012). However, as a whole, it is clear that no matter how many great restaurants pop up with name chefs, our city will never be truly prosperous and competitive with statistics like those in the Pew report.

Those of us who study statistics know that almost everything goes back to poverty. Crime, public health, education have all been linked to poverty, and our poverty rate is second only to Detroit amongst America’s largest cities. To anyone who cares about Philadelphia’s future, our number one goal needs to be working to reduce the city’s poverty rate, building wealth and equity for those currently lacking.

Certainly it is not easy (there are generations of approaches and literature on the topic), but our city’s positive trends give Philadelphia a new, unprecedented, opportunity. When a city is bleeding population, fighting to save its downtown core, it is very hard to combat citywide poverty. But that’s not us anymore. We need to focus on the trends that show a city of stability and growth, and determine how to capitalize on those assets in struggling neighborhoods and communities. Left unchecked we will continue to be two Philadelphias, but if we intelligently seize the opportunities afforded by our recent growth trends, Philadelphia may come to achieve its true potential.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Universal Transportation Card

By Greg

For many Americans, a driver’s license represents freedom. It is our de facto government-issued photo ID in this country for just about everything. However, it is inextricably linked to its primary raison d’etre—the right to drive a car. Yes, you can order a non-driver photo ID card, but it is still issued by the state’s department of transportation. No matter how you cut it, your identity in the USA is linked to a car culture.

In Governor John Hickenlooper’s speech last week in Philadelphia he talked about the “freedom” to have transportation options—the right to have access to mass transit as well as auto-centric infrastructure. What if we applied this philosophy to transform our national ID card into a universal transportation license?

This could be a single card that serves both as a driver’s license and metro card, usable on any region’s mass transit system. You could load money onto your transportation card just like you do now on your Metro Card, Charlie Card, or Clipper Card. This card would have a real functional benefit, eliminating the status quo where each transit system has its own fare card. It could universalize the nation’s metro transit networks.

Imagine a single card providing access to all modes of transportation, all across the country. Suburban and rural youth would still cherish the freedom of the driver’s license, while their counterparts in more urbanized areas would grow up using the same card on the bus and subway, to get to school or visit friends. Business and leisure travelers could use the card on any transit route, anywhere they go.

The card would evolve to represent the true face of our nation’s transportation—not one dominated by the automobile, but one where people get around different places in different ways, all equally important to our civic and national identity. Now, when asked to show photo ID, we would no longer pull out a plastic symbol of car culture. Rather we would show an ID that is truly democratic, associated with freedom of mobility of all kinds, of all people, of all places, across this great, diverse nation of ours.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Big Ideas Are Possible

By Greg

Last night hundreds of people came out to honor the student winners of the 2013 Ed Bacon Student DesignCompetition. The event was inspiring, celebrating visionary ideas for the future of Philadelphia from some of the world’s best and brightest young designers. This year’s winning team hailed from Cornell, with runners up from University of Maryland, University of Nottingham, University of Tennesee-Knoxville, and National University of Singapore.

The event also featured a keynote address from Edmund N. Bacon Prize winner, Colorado Governor and former Denver Mayor, John Hickenlooper. I met Hickenlooper once before in 2009, and both times he was easy going, down-to-earth, and totally visionary, with a firm belief that realizing big ideas is possible. Far from a career politician, he was previously a geologist and a beer brewer (owner of Wynkoop Brewing Company). I’ll also mention he’s a Philadelphia-area native and he and I share an alma mater (Wesleyan University).

In Hickenlooper’s talk he described his work creating a more livable city in Denver, and promoting freedom (his word) by spearheading one of the nation’s largest mass transit projects in history—giving people a choice of how to move around the region. He made these big visionary ideas seem so obvious and achievable. Hearing Governor Hickenlooper last night took me back to my visit to Denver in 2009, and I want to relate an experience from that trip:

I traveled to Denver for a conference, arriving a few hours early. There was a baseball game that afternoon, and I decided a sunny day at the ballpark would be a good way to while away a few hours. I asked about the best way to travel to the stadium. “Walk,” replied the smiling woman behind the hotel desk.

I left the convention center and walked a few blocks until I arrived at the 16th Street Mall. What I saw stopped me in my tracks. It was a real pedestrian street, closed to car traffic, and amazingly vibrant. The street was packed with people eating at cafes, shopping, pushing strollers, watching street performers. A free shuttle cruised down the 1.25 miles of car-free zone for those who wanted a rest or a quick ride.

As a Philadelphian, this sight made me green with envy. Our fair city had its own pedestrian mall not too long ago. Twelve blocks of Chestnut Street were closed to automobile traffic in the mid-1970s. However, in the late 1990s cars were permitted again, Chestnut was in sad shape, and many blamed the pedestrian mall. However, others argue that Philly never did the pedestrian street the right way. Whatever the reason, it didn’t work in Philly, but it succeeds magically in Denver.

The 1.4 mile walk from the convention center to Coors Field took me through the LoDo district—a hip, downtown neighborhood with beautifully restored historic buildings housing destinations like the Wynkoop brew pub. Just beyond LoDo is Coors Field. The first thing that I noticed is that the stadium is located right downtown, surrounded by mixed-use buildings, and less than a half mile from the city’s main train station. The next thing I noticed is that it is not surrounded by parking lots. Many fans were clearly parking at downtown garages and walking to the stadium, maybe stopping at restaurants and attractions before or after the game.

Coors Field was built in 1995. In the late 1990s, Philadelphia was looking at potential locations for our new sports stadiums. It was thrilling to consider the possibility of a stadium at 30th Street Station, or at Broad and Spring Garden Streets. At the end of the day, Philly could not get it done. While the Linc and Citizen’s Bank Park are nice fields, they are isolated, far from downtown, surrounded by a sea of parking. They do nothing to help downtown businesses and attractions. There is no synergy, nowhere to walk to. As I watched the Rockies take on the Padres, I silently bemoaned another lost opportunity for my hometown.

At the conference, I learned about another Denver achievement that made me even more envious. It’s called Fast Tracks—a $6.5 billion, twelve-year investment to build a 119-mile transit system for Denver, including six new rail lines. It is being financed by an increase in the sales tax approved by voters in 2004. Fast Tracks required vision, leadership, and true regional cooperation. Meanwhile, back in Philly any project to create new transit lines seems to fall by the wayside, while SEPTA recently announced a $4.7 billion shortfall.

This takes me back to the present, sitting there, listening to Governor Hickenlooper’s speech last night, and thinking about the future of my own city. Philadelphia is at a turning point. Our city is finally gaining population, has a thriving downtown, and is well positioned for greatness. But we need bold, visionary, gutsy leadership to get there. Seems to me Philly’s current leaders should be turning to this hometown boy for a few pointers.

Of course, all is not rosy in Denver; the city has fiscal issues, and higher poverty and unemployment rates than the national average. There are also significant differences. Philadelphia is a much larger city, in the center of a larger metro region. Still, for whatever reason, Denver has succeeded in some big, bold, visionary initiatives, where similar efforts in Philly fell flat (did I mention Denver has had bike sharing since 2009?).

I hope that the next wave of Philly leaders take a cue from Governor Hickenlooper and truly believe that big, visionary ideas are necessary and achievable. That we can stop saying “no,” and start saying “yes.” Yes, we can foster regional cooperation and help SEPTA become a great transit system. Yes, our next major stadium will be downtown. Yes, we can invest in pedestrian-only streets. Yes, we can have bike sharing. Yes, we can have a great, livable city that attracts residents and businesses and becomes famous not for one specific initiative, but for being a place where our leaders and citizens feel confident that big ideas are truly possible.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


By Greg

Over the years I've sent about a half dozen letters to the New York Times. They published one of them in 2003. Anyway, here's the latest one I sent that didn't make the cut, but I thought may still be of interest to somebody out there:

To the Editor:
The great Pennsylvania convenience store rivalry is real (“Fuel and Food Are Quick, but the Fealty Is Forever,” February 10, 2013), but Sheetz and Wawa used to be more distinct. While once Wawas could be found all over Center City Philadelphia, feeding a cosmopolitan crowd, Sheetz was always the roadside stop with a gas station. Today Wawa has shuttered many of its downtown stores, in favor of new, suburban-style locations. Many urbanites were heartbroken as each silhouetted goose went dark, and in 2009 a crew of steadfast hoagie lovers marched in the streets with protest signs before the closing of the Rittenhouse Square Wawa. Other convenience stores have filled in key downtown locations, and today, brands like Old Nelson supply us with higher quality sandwiches and better coffee. Still, it’s sad to see the diminishing urban presence of a brand so indelibly linked to Philly’s identity.
Gregory Heller

For what it's worth, I had a similar letter published in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 2009 when Wawa closed its store at 20th and Locust.

Friday, January 18, 2013


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Happy new year! I want to let you know that I recently left my position at The Enterprise Center to start my own consulting practice. While I will remain based in Philadelphia, my major project right now is working to develop the “Baltimore Food Hub,” a synergistic group of food-related businesses, services, and programs focused on rebuilding Baltimore’s local food economy.

In addition, I am also a Senior Advisor at Econsult Solutions Inc., where I am focusing on projects in the following areas:

- Economic development
- Urban planning and development
- Real estate consulting
- Food economy projects
- Nonprofit management and operations

Finally, I want to mention that my biography of Ed Bacon will be out this spring! You can preorder it now:

I hope we have the opportunity to work together as I launch and grow my business. My new contact information is below.

Greg Heller


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

John Hickenlooper Coming to Philly Feb 21!

Yes folks, John Hickenlooper, Colorado Governor, former Denver Mayor, brewpub owner, and transit advocate all-star is coming to Philly on February 21st to receive the Edmund N. Bacon Prize from the Center for Architecture. Book your tickets now! See info below.

2013 Ed Bacon AwardsCeremony & Reception

Honoring John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado,
& the 2013 Student Design Competition Winners
Thursday, February 21, 2013 at the Philadelphia Center for Architecture
VIP reception: 5:30-6:30 p.m.; ceremony & presentation: 7-8:30 p.m.
VIP reception & ceremony: $150/ticket
Ceremony only: $25/General Admission, $20 AIA/CFA Member, $15 Student w/ valid ID
Purchase your tickets by clicking here

Celebrate Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper as we honor him with our seventh annual Edmund N. Bacon Prize, bestowed annually on an accomplished figure who has achieved outstanding results in urban planning, development, and design through conviction of vision, effective communication, and commitment to improving their community.

In addition, join us to honor the 2013 Ed Bacon Student Design Competition winners, announced here for the first time. You can view the winning entries by clicking here.

First Prize:

Shift (Cornell University - Katherine LI, Caleb CHENG, Jesse NICHOLSON, Travis NORTH, Logan AXELSON)

Special Jury Prizes:

Most Realistic Proposal - A New Schuylkill Waterfront (University of Maryland - Jacob BIALEK, Emma CRENSHAW, Mark ELLIOT, Tamir EZZAT, Julian GOLDMAN, Eric JOERDENS, Katrina MCRAINEY, Michael TAYLOR)

Visionary Landscape - FLUIDCITY (University of Nottingham - Jiayi JIN, Xueting KONG) Environmental Sensitivity - perFARMance landSCRAPER (University of Tennessee, Knoxville - Amanda GANN)

Environmental Sensitivity - perFARMance landSCRAPER (University of Tennessee, Knoxville - Amanda GANN)

Best Urban Amenities - Philadelphia! (National University of Singapore - Shunann CHEN, See Hong QUEK, Leon YZELMAN, Lynette LIEW, Terence CHUA)

A VIP Reception before the ceremony will honor our prize-winning guests and the generous sponsors who have made this competition and event possible. Be sure to join us for this exclusive opportunity to meet the governor, student prize winners, and influential members of Philadelphia's design/build community.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Top 11 Real Estate Stories of 2012 (according to Greg)

By Greg

Happy new year! A couple days ago Philadelphia Business Journal’s Natalie Kostelni came out with her list of “The top 10 real estate stories of 2012:” Yesterday she came out with number 11. No offense meant to Natalie, but she left off many of the items that I thought were most significant in 2012. So I decided to make  my own list.

Glaxo moving to the Navy Yard was a shame because we lost another corporate headquarters from downtown, but it wouldn't be in my top ten (or eleven). Sale of buildings like Two Penn Center and 1515 Market would be significant if the new owners were going to do anything meaningful to them, like opening them up to the street and filling the ground floors with nice restaurants. I am highly skeptical that these types of improvements will take place, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

To me, the stories that are important are not the ones with the biggest price tag, but the ones that have the greatest impact on the urban landscape. Anyway, here goes (since Natalie chose 11, so will I):

Top 11 Real Estate Stories of 2012 (according to Greg)

11. West Philadelphia High School Sold
The fact that a New York developer was willing to spend millions of dollars and commit to invest tens of millions more in a gorgeous, but ungodly expensive, rehab of the former school at 48th and Walnut is telling about the shift in the West Philly real estate market. There have been a lot of sales of multifamily buildings in this vicinity, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot of activity around here in the year ahead.

10. Philadelphia Zoo starts construction on its new parking garage
I know it’s a parking garage, but this is the first major new development in Parkside since the Please Touch Museum, and the Zoo has been working on this for almost a decade. It will provide new street presence on Girard, and most significantly it lays the groundwork for reopening a SEPTA regional rail stop at the Zoo. There are big, unrealized plans for the Centennial District, and this was one of the Zoo’s pieces to moving the plan forward. I hope more good things will follow for this part of the city that has such enormous potential.

9. Forum theater closes
One of my favorite Philly Mag articles of all time is this piece on the Forum Theater: Now that the theater is closed and presumably for sale, that block of Philly’s business district could totally transform. Inga Saffron wrote that these two blocks by the theater: “may be the most crucial to Philadelphia's future success:”

8. Point Breeze housing market blows up
Point Breeze is not the most expensive market in the city, but it’s probably the most talked about. In part this is because it’s the obvious “next” neighborhood to gentrify, and part because of the highly visible, and at times controversial, work of OCF. Anyway, lots of rehabs, gentrification, racial tension, some cool architecture, some awful architecture, lots of new residents, heated community meetings, new businesses like Sardine Bar, etc. etc. Such is the story of Point Breeze in 2012.

7. Penn starts developing Grays Ferry Crescent
When DuPont Marshall Labs closed down, this could have become yet another massive, blighted brownfield destined to sit around for years or decades like an anchor around a struggling part of the city. But instead the University of Pennsylvania bought this 25-acre site and is starting to develop it as its new data center. Alongside is the newly opened Grays Ferry section of the Schuylkill River Trail. Instead of being a blight this campus holds huge potential for exciting redevelopment.

6. Toll Brothers starts construction on 2400 South
The new Toll Brothers project at 24th and South was controversial in the neighborhood, but will bring lots of new housing and retail to create a hub at the corner of 23rd and Bainbridge. It’s a massive project, and arguably Toll Brothers’ investment in this area also enticed CHOP to purchase the old School District building. This overall transformation in the western reaches of South of South are going to be profound in the coming years.

5. Drexel breaks ground (lots of it)
This is the only item that was both on mine and Natalie’s list. But it deserves to be there. Under John Fry’s leadership, Drexel is building its new business school, broke ground on its project on Chestnut Street, and is moving head on other new projects that will change the face of University City. However, equally significant is the fact that Drexel is investing in Lancaster Avenue, and imitated some of the more subtle neighborhood investment strategies that Penn used, such as its community mortgage program.

4. The Parkway is really happening
In the City’s quest to bring new life back to the Parkway, attracting the Barnes was the critical piece to the puzzle. According to Meryl Levitz (GPTMC), a host of international art critics agreed that the Barnes moving to Center City Philadelphia was the art event of the year (in the world) in 2012. Pretty incredible! But that’s not all. There was a recent announcement that the ill-fated Barnes Tower will now be a mixed-use building with a Whole Foods. That means the existing Whole Foods site will be redeveloped. Also CCD’s Sister Cities Plaza renovation is beautiful. The Parkway has a ways to go before it will be the successful urban space we all dream of, but I think it’s over the tipping point now.

3. Major downtown sites developed
The block-long AAA building has been sitting vacant (except when it was briefly Bob Brady’s campaign headquarters for his mayoral run). Now a new construction tower is rising above the old building, filling in a key piece of Market Street. Around the corner the new tower is rising on the site of the Sidney Hillman Medical Center (for the record, I was opposed to demolishing it, but glad the new project moved ahead quickly). It also looks like 1919 Market is finally making progress, filling in an embarrassing vacant lot in the heart of downtown. These projects and others to follow will truly transform Center City. How? Second tier cities have big vacant lots in the center of downtown. Top tier cities don’t.

2. Sunoco Refinery Sold
When Sunoco was bought this year and the Philadelphia refinery was supposed to close, the city stood to lose 850 jobs. But it also looked like the city could have to deal with 1,400 acres of vacant, polluted land that could sit there for a long time. Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger has talked a lot about the long-term potential of this and other industrial sites for redevelopment. However that discussion was postponed when Sunoco announced that a joint venture with Carlyle Group will keep the facility open. The new use for the site will involve natural gas from Marcellus Shale, which brings up a whole new set of interesting issues of how this may affect Philadelphia’s economy.

1. Eric Blumenfeld buys the Divine Lorraine (again)
Blumenfeld not only plans to finally invest in the Divine Lorraine, but he has a whole master plan for revitalizing north Broad Street, including the Metropolitan Opera House. His plan is big and visionary, and will probably take a long time, but we need some of that these days. If even just the Divine Lorraine gets redeveloped it will be a game changer for North Broad and the City. If the whole plan is realized it will be one of the largest American urban redevelopment projects of our time.

Honorable Mention: PREIT close to starting Gallery renovation
It’s only an honorable mention because I’m not fully convinced it’s happening quite yet. However, if PREIT moves ahead on this $100-million+ project to modernize the Gallery and open it up to Market Street, it could be huge. I spend as little time in shopping malls as possible, but from people I know who go to malls they tell me PREIT’s redo of Plymouth Meeting, Cherry Hill, and others were super successful. I think PREIT knows what they’re doing, and if so the Gallery could become a valuable downtown amenity, and maybe even a great urban space.