Everyone who lives in, or has been to, Philadelphia in the last couple of years has likely heard of the Piazza at Schmidts. For those not familiar with it, the Piazza at Schmidts is a large retail and residential development in the Northern Liberties neighborhood, centered around a plaza known as the Piazza, on the site of the old Schmidt’s brewery at 2nd Street and Germantown Avenue. The Piazza is a very original development, created by Bart Blatstein of Tower Development, that is modeled partly on a European plaza, but with a modern American design. The retail, however, is anything but typically American as Blatstein has eschewed chain retail in favor of unique and local businesses. The Piazza itself is a large open space with a small stage and a large jumbotron. The space is used for farmers and craft markets, concerts, movie showings, and watching sports. The local, unique businesses have entry onto the Piazza and the street side of the surrounding apartment buildings. There is even an oval-shaped office building at one end, known as the Rialto.
This post is not meant, however, to discuss the Piazza, but rather the new developments that are currently under construction next door. If you’ve been to 2nd Street and Girard Avenue recently, you probably have seen this. The large, barren empty lot, that has been there since they tore down the abandoned brewery, now has a large new shopping center built on it. The new center, known as the Shops at Schmidts, is two storeys high, with street level retail spaces on the sidewalk and a large space for a Pathmark supermarket on the upper floor. Blatstein had to compromise his desire to avoid chain retail for the supermarket space, but even that is going to be some kind of special Pathmark store, known as Pathmark Fresh. I’m not sure what that means, but so far it is obviously different from traditional supermarkets because it will be on the second level. There is a parking garage next door on 2nd Street, which also has street level retail along the sidewalk. Altogether, the Shops at Schmidts will have 10,000 square feet of new retail space.
The corner of the development, at 2nd & Girard, will have a decorative tower with a gothic looking “S“, that resembles the Schmidts logo. There may also be a clock on one side, as that was shown in the renderings. There, also, will be a green roof on top. The development will eventually include two highrises behind the shopping center, one 25 storeys and one 16 storeys, that will have rental apartments and a hotel. Tower Development has already received several million dollars in state aid to help cover financing for the highrises. Then, still other midrise buildings and townhouses will be built at different spots on the block, such as along a new park on Germantown Avenue and on Hancock Street.
I attended the original community meeting for the Piazza development in 2002. At that meeting, Bart Blatstein expressed his idea to have a central plaza because he was inspired by a trip to Italy, where plazas are a regular occurrence in cities. At that time, he envisioned a development of the same height and scale, but with a traditional Italian style. In his later designs, he worked with Erdy McHenry Architects, to create a much more modern style development centered around the Piazza. He intends the Piazza to be a major center of activity with unique, trendy retail surrounding it. His plans for the Shops at Schmidts have changed over time. A few years ago, he planned a strip mall with surface parking lots. When the neighbors rightfully complained that that would look too dull and suburban, he came up with the current plan of the new shopping center and highrises.
This portion of the development is the latest in a series of developments throughout that area for Blatstein. He built the Liberties Walk development across 2nd Street from the Piazza. That has low-rise apartment buildings with a pedestrian walkway down the middle lined with stores. The walkway crosses several thin streets and stops west of 3rd Street, next to an old church that will be renovated eventually into a performing arts center. He has also renovated several old factory buildings, including the two next to the Piazza, as well as, the old Boone School next door. His continued development has helped encourage other continuous development in Northern Liberties that has kept the neighborhood busy during this recession.
You can find out more about the new developments on the link to the Tower Development website above, and observe the renderings and pictures that I have of the developments above and below.