In the past two weeks, several things have happened that will all affect Philadelphia’s economy in a big way for generations. And all these things involved some sort of approval from government agencies or the courts. Let’s examine these important milestone events:
COMCAST IS THE BIGGEST OF THEM ALL
The first one I’ll discuss is well known to most of us. It is the merger of Comcast Corporation with NBC Universal (this includes NBC networks, Telemundo, and Universal Studios), which makes Comcast the largest media company in the world and in history. The Federal Communications Commission gave its approval for the merger on Tuesday. This means the world’s largest media company will be headquartered in a huge media center in the middle of Center City. Not since the Pennsylvania Gazette has Philadelphia seen a media entity of such importance. There’s been much talk about the effects of this merger on consumers and the industry, but the effects on Philadelphia are also important to all those living here.
Having such a large media outlet, centered in downtown, would bring so much more attention to the city. Comcast designed the Comcast Center to be a media center, and intends to have their cable networks headquartered in the Comcast Center, with much of the programming happening there as well. The existing NBC will stay in New York, but that isn’t as important as the new TV and internet networks that will be created as the new media comglomerate attracts top talent from other media companies. These new networks will be largely centered in, and broadcast from, Philadelphia. This will bring extraordinary amounts of attention to Philadelphia, as people in the media like to talk about where they live, much the way that the national media keeps talking about New York and Los Angeles ad nauseam. This, in turn, will likely bring more media entrepreneurs to Philadelphia, leading to more of that attention. Then all this increased attention for the city and region will likely attract many more tourists, residents, entrepreneurs, and businesses to Philadelphia. One of the reasons why New York and Los Angeles are so big is because of the constant media attention they receive; now, Philadelphia will benefit from the same media focus.
The new Comcast also compliments other media and entertainment developments in the region, such as the new movie studio in Delaware County, new theaters in Center City, new and expanding advertising agencies in Center City, and the city’s already huge music industry. Also, the Comcast Center is part of a burgeoning media/political corridor that is developing along Arch Street. A mile from the Comcast Center is the Constitution Center, which is already an incredible civic building and will continue to be a growing media center for political and social issues. Then imbetween these two institutions is the expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center, which could likely attract more political and social organization conventions because of its proximity to the other institutions. As if all that isn’t enough, there is the Free Library of Philadelphia on the Parkway near Comcast Center, which will soon expand with a new auditorium for their incredible speakers series.
For more info about the Comcast/NBC merger, you can check out the Inquirer’s website here.
AIRPORT EXPANSION CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF
The next item that is of major importance to the region is the expansion of the Philadelphia International Airport. The plan to expand the airport was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration almost two weeks ago. The expansion plan calls for lengthening two runways, building a fifth runway along the Delaware River, a new commuter terminal, more gates, additional parking, an automated tram connecting the terminals, and a hub for rental cars. The expansion will require moving the UPS cargo facility and demolishing (or moving) 72 homes in Tinicum Township.
This is another super important development for the area’s growth and prosperity. Nothing is more important for a region’s economy nowadays than its airport. Philadelphia’s airport is cramped and needs more capacity and other improvements, such as a “people mover” and a hub for rental cars. Specifically, the expansion will create a second major runway, so that two large jets can takeoff and land at the same time. This can help reduce delays and allow for future growth. All this new capacity will allow the city’s economy and population to grow and indeed is a necessary condition for, and a major cause of, that growth.
DELAWARE BAY IS FINALLY BEING DREDGED
The last big happening that will affect the region’s economy for decades is the final approval for the deepening of the Delaware Bay shipping channel to 45 feet, which will allow larger cargo ships to come up the Bay and river and dock at the Ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington. U.S. District Court Judge Joel A. Pisano has rejected an attempt by the state of New Jersey to stop dredging, because of environmental concerns, that he felt were unwarranted. This allows the Army Corps of Engineers to go forward with dredging the 102 mile channel from Philadelphia to the Atlantic Ocean. A similar suit brought by the state of Delaware was also rejected a few months ago. Dredging along Delaware’s coast already started last year.
The dredging has been planned and debated for roughly twenty years. Despite efforts by elected officials, such as former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and former PA Governor Ed Rendell, the dredging was halted several times by New Jersey and Delaware because of environmental concerns. The efforts by New Jersey to stop dredging seem curious, though, because state officials were all in favor of a similar dredging project for the North Jersey ports. Some local South Jersey officials were concerned about the dredged material being dumped on the Jersey side of the river, but the dredged material is monitored for contaminants. That means that it can be used for new land that creates parkland, or more land for the airport expansion, without harming the environment. Also, a good portion of the dredged soil will be used to fill old, unused Pennsylvania coal mines. In fact, dredging can help the environment by ridding the floor of the Bay of pollutants, as well as, debris that can puncture oil tankers, like the large piece of metal that punctured the Athos I oil tanker in 2004 and caused a massive oil spill.
The economic benefits go beyond the port itself. The port activity supports light manufacturing, such as food processing and even some final auto assembly, and it supports some jobs in trade and finance. Dredging was necessary for the port to compete with other nearby ports that were doing similar dredging projects and it supports certain terminal developments, such as the large new Southport Marine Terminal, soon to be built at the eastern end of the Navy Yard, the new produce terminal just built in Southwest Philadelphia, and the large new marine terminal in Paulsboro, that is under construction on the Jersey side.
Clearly, all these developments, that have happened recently, will have a huge effect on the city’s and region’s economy and development for generations, and they all received final approval at the same time. This month is a watershed moment for the city’s economy and future development.