A new Market East

East Market Street, or Market East as it’s often called, connects the Independence Mall to City Hall and the Avenue of the Arts.  It is one of the largest retail areas in the city of Philadelphia.  Among the buildings along Market East are the Gallery at Market East, the largest enclosed downtown shopping mall in the nation, the Reading Terminal head house entrance, the former Wanamaker’s department store (now Macy’s), the former Lit Brothers department store (now the Mellon Independence Center) and the former Strawbridge’s department store.  The south side of the block has small stores in low-rise buildings.  Except for Macy’s, few residents of Center City shop or eat on Market East and it is not very busy at night.  Few tourists spend much time there.  It is largely just a thoroughfare for tourists on their way to other tourist attractions and areas.

Now, new developments and renovations that have been planned and anticipated for a long time are getting close to happening.  The largest and most noteworthy change would be the long-awaited renovation of the Gallery by their partial owners and managers, Center City-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT).  The Gallery was built in the 1970s to complement the several department stores that I mentioned earlier and provide suburban style shopping in the city.  It is on four levels, with more than a million square feet of retail space, and stretches from 11th Street to the former Strawbridge’s building in the middle of the 800 block of Market Street.  It has a four block long food court on the lower level that stretches from the Reading Terminal building to the Strawbridge’s building.  There are several entrances along the food court into Market East Station, one of the city’s three main regional rail stations, and an entrance to the Market Street subway at 11th Street.  Very few Center City residents shop or eat in the Gallery.  The retail is typical middle class stores and eateries (the anchor stores are Kmart, Burlington Coat Factory, and Old Navy) that are popular with residents of the working class neighborhoods beyond Center City, particularly North and West Philadelphia residents who don’t have these stores in or near their neighborhoods.  The outside of the buildings are designed almost like a suburban mall with very few storefront windows and large blank walls on Market Street, except for some small windows on 901 Market above Kmart.

The Gallery was originally envisioned by famed Planning Commission Director Edmund Bacon.  He saw it as a way to compete with the suburbs at a time when middle class people were moving to the suburbs in droves and preferring to shop in suburban malls.  The results are not what Bacon probably expected.  As I mentioned, Center City residents have never shopped there much, perhaps because Center City residents do not want to shop in suburban malls or middle class chain stores.  But residents of the more depressed areas of the city have been able to go to the Gallery for their shopping needs, without having to drive, or take a long bus ride, to suburban malls.  It, also, kept a number of retailers in the city at a time when many of them were shunning big cities and their older storefronts.  However, the Gallery has a vacancy rate now of almost 40%.

The biggest failings of the Gallery are the large blank walls and lack of street level windows.  The idea was to have a suburban design, that focused attention mostly indoors, in the city, but that design wasn’t right for the city or Market East.  So, the renovation will redesign the front to have large windows and light displays to greatly enliven the street and give views of the indoor of the mall from Market Street and vice versa.  There will, also, be new restaurants in the mall that will help keep the mall and Market Street busier at night.  PREIT anticipates adding many new stores for “fashion-conscious” consumers, which undoubtedly means more upscale retail.  While Center City residents usually don’t want to shop in middle class chain stores, they do like upscale chain retail.  There is clearly a market for more upscale chain retail in Center City.  Over the years I have often heard many downtown residents expressing disappointment (re: whining) that Center City lacks some popular upscale stores that one can find at King of Prussia and other suburban malls. 

PREIT would like to start the $100 million renovation this year.  They received some money from the city, which owns the land underneath (the walkway in the middle of the lower level of the mall is technically Commerce Street), about four years ago.  PREIT refinanced their debt, that they had incurred to renovate the nearby Cherry Hill and Plymouth Meeting Malls, about a year ago, so they’re in a stronger financial position to get the financing necessary to finish the renovation.  The future of the old Strawbridge’s building is less certain.  It is connected to the Gallery and had been completely empty for the past few years after Strawbridge’s finally closed for good.  The upper floors have recently been renovated for office space for state workers moving from North Broad Street.  The lower retail floors are still empty, though.

Catercorner to the Gallery is another site that has been eyed for development for some time.  That is the south side of the 1100 block of Market Street, known as the Girard Estate or Girard Square.  It is called that because it was owned for years by the organization that used the fortune of famed financier Stephen Girard to run various charitable institutions, particularly Girard College in North Philadelphia.  The whole block from Market to Chestnut Streets was sold three years ago to a partnership consisting of SSH Real Estate, Young Capital, and JOSS Realty Partners.  That group plans to demolish the two-storey building that stretches along Market from 11th to 12th Streets and build a four-storey, 280,000 square foot shopping center called the Pavilion at Market East.  It will have a glass curtain wall and plenty of street level windows.  That development could have a mix of upscale and middle class retail.  Target is rumored to be the anchor tenant, but negotiations are still ongoing for that. The Pavilion at Market East will be built to support a 27-storey building on top, which may be a large anchor hotel for the newly expanded Convention Center (across the street behind the Reading Terminal building) or some other mixed-use development.  The developers are hoping to be able to complete the shopping center by 2014, which means construction probably wouldn’t begin until next year.

Down the street at 8th & Market Streets, Goldenberg Group Inc. is still planning to build a large retail/entertainment center on the site of the former Gimbel’s department store, which burned down in the 1970s and is currently used as a parking lot.  Goldenberg bought the site in the late 1990s and has been trying to develop it since.  They first wanted to build a Disney theme park.  They dug the hole, but that project fell through and they had to fill in the land after a couple of years.  Then they planned a shopping center with a Target as the anchor tenant, but that also fell through because of the recession.  Now, they are planning to try a retail/entertainment center again, and plans are still being formulated.  It’s hard to be confident about Goldenberg’s plans after all their inability to develop that site over the years, but maybe with the other developments and the expansion of the Convention Center, they could finally get their act together and get the financing necessary.

One way that all these developers are hoping to pay for their projects is to include large electronic advertising signs on the outside of their buildings.  There is a bill in Council that would allow such signs on buildings on Market Street from 7th to 13th Streets, with many restrictions.  Some community groups, particularly SCRUB (Society Created to Remove Urban Blight), are very much against electronic billboards, arguing that the restrictions would be ignored and the signs would end up on historic buildings and near the Independence Mall.  There are hearings planned soon on the bill.  What would probably happen is a compromise allowing some signs on the Gallery, Pavilion at Market East, and whatever Goldenberg would build, with some decorative lighting also on these buildings.  The older, historic buildings along Market East could possibly have the same decorative lighting that buildings on South Broad Street have at night.

All this development would certainly remake Market East for good.  It would be more upscale and busier at night.  I hope it doesn’t become completely upscale, though, because that could have the effect of segregating the city to some degree.  And, some middle class retail, such as Target and Best Buy, would be very welcome by Center City residents.  Also, it’s about time that the center of Center City had a major multiplex movie theatre.  The Goldenberg development would be the perfect place to finally put that.  The Planning Commission has been studying Market East and is considering other improvements, such as expanding the Reading Terminal Market onto Market Street in the Reading Terminal head house building, re-routing buses to streets north of Market East and rebuilding the bus depot at 10th & Filbert Streets with a larger facility that would have direct connections to the Gallery and Market East Station.  There could be more highrise development, also.  The Gallery is built to hold two 30-storey highrises on top and highrises could be built on the Pavilion at Market East, 8th & Market, 8th & Chestnut, 10th & Market, and 13th and Market.  I think new highrises should include a mix of uses, including hotels, residential, academic uses by Jefferson University, and major office development.  The area has numerous rail lines and is near two expressways, so office development makes sense there as well.  Whatever the future holds for Market East, it will certainly be a major destination for tourists, Center City residents, office workers, and other city residents alike.

I have links to the developers’ websites in the article and a link to an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal here.  And, if you would like to buy, sell, or rent a home or investment property in this exciting area of the city, you can send me an email at gabriel@thecondoshops.com or sign onto my Facebook page, Gabriel G. Philly Realtor, or our Condo Shop Facebook page, here.  And, check out our Condo Shop website at www.thecondoshops.com.

Rendering of the Pavilion at Market East @ 11th & Market Streets

Girard Square @ 11th & Market, today, with historic 21 S. 12th Street & PSFS/Loews Building in background

Entrance to the Gallery @ 10th Street

Mostly blank wall of the Gallery on the 1000 Block of Market with Aramark Tower in background

Entrance to the Gallery @ 9th Street

Former Gimbel's site (known as 8th & Market) from 9th & Market

Thomas Lofts, the only residential building on Market East, @ 8th & Market

Old Strawbridge and Clothier Building @ 8th & Market

Former Lit Brothers building, now Mellon Independence Center, @ 7th & Market

Declaration House (Graff House), a recreation of the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, @ 7th & Market

Looking down Market East from the Independence Mall

The southeast corner of 11th & Market could have new development someday

Front of the Reading Terminal Building on Market

Inside the Gallery shopping mall

Entrance to Market East Station from Gallery food court

Regional rail trains passing through Market East Station (includes new Silverliner cars)

Western end of Gallery food court

Eastern end of Gallery food court @ 10th Street

Tiffany's Bakery, according to the City Paper, "the only reason to go to the Gallery"

Inside the Reading Terminal headhouse from ground level

Entrance to the Reading Terminal Market, the biggest and best farmer's market in the world, from headhouse building

Entrance to the Reading Terminal Market on 12th Street

The bus terminal @ 10th & Filbert Streets might be replaced with a larger facility


About gabrielcgottlieb

I am a real estate agent at Long & Foster Real Estate Center City and someone who likes to write about development and urban planning in the City of Philadelphia. Contact me at Gabriel.gottlieb@LNF.com if you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in Philadelphia.
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14 Responses to A new Market East

  1. Phille says:

    I’m not sure that I would call the mall “middle class” I would say its Lower class, or mayyyybe lower middle class. Honestly, I avoid the mall like the plague… its disgusting, all of the stores suck, and quite honest, I don’t like the people that shop their or scream at each other outside of it.

  2. Fritz says:

    Thanks for this great roundup of what’s going on. I think any of it will be a great step forward. I don’t know why anyone who lives in Philly could or would avoid Market East like the plague. It’s not the greatest place but it’s a transit hub and not a bad place to stop and get my Dunkin Donut’s before taking the train. It’s definitely one of the biggest disappointments in Philly having so much potential but that will change, I hope.

  3. Wes says:

    Great recap and exciting stuff! But I have to disagree with Phille. The Gallery is practical and it serves its purpose. I find people who “avoid the mall like the plague” are quasi-urbanites. The ones who like the idea of living in the city, but flee to the suburbs every time they need something. Sure, we don’t rival King of Prussia, but what we do have access to in Center City is not that bad if you’re not a completely entitled snob. I don’t have a car. I’d be lost without K-Mart. I often find myself at Burlington or Old Navy. I really don’t get what’s so bad. I’d love some nicer stores and the street scape could certainly be improved. But as a resource, it’s harsh to turn your nose up at something that serves as a necessity to a lot of middle, and even upper middle class people. If you “don’t like the people that shop (there),” maybe you should reevaluate your choice in cities. Not only is it a gross generalization, but in any urban shopping center, especially one attached to public transportation, you’re going to be exposed to an all inclusive cross section of your city. If you can’t handle what you see, you might be better off in Portland.

    • Yeah, that’s why I don’t think that Market East should be entirely upscale. The whole idea of cities is that they are a diverse mix of people and it would be boring if you didn’t have that diversity. If someone doesn’t like that, then city living isn’t for them.

      The Gallery has retail that is essentially ordinary, and that’s why Center City people never warmed up to it. Center City, though, has more overall upscale retail than any suburban mall, it’s just not all chain stores. The Gallery can have some fancy stores that you currently only have at King of Prussia, because there is a market for that, but Center City doesn’t need to be like King of Prussia, because there are stores like Boyd’s and Joan Shepp that you don’t have at suburban malls anyway.

  4. C Miles says:

    Love the article, thanks for the thorough update. Right now, it seems that they are deferring some maintainence on the Gallery- waiting for the major upgrade I suppose. A little less clean, lots of 70’s style overhead mini- bulbs and signage burned out, etc.

    A small nitpick- (this may be before your time in Philadelphia) Gimbel’s store on 8th and Market (a big deal at the time- very much associated with Thanksgiving Day Parade) was demolished on purpose in ’77, (it did not burn down) following the opening of its new, smaller store just across the street in the new Gallery. (Current K Mart location)

    As for this latest set of plans- I hope some attention is paid this time around to how people actually walk to, from, and among all the shops, passages, etc. We love shopping at Reading Terminal Market- and we take the commuter lines home – however- Crossing the dark and creepy Filbert Street “Homeless Wall” is an adventure in itself.

    And the 11th Street El /Blue Line Stop- jeez- Talk about claustrophobic. The rehab they did in the early 80’s actually made the existing low ceilings and narrow passages even smaller. No one likes to get on/off in a Rabbit Warren.

  5. donna says:

    I hope this comes to pass and you make a good point about it not totally being upscale. I’ve wanted it to become upscale although I know I wouldn’t be able to afford most of the prices. Something like Willow Grove would be nice, not exactly the same but you have Bloomingdales but you also have H&M or Banana Republic but also Forever 21.

    The Gallery in its current state does serve it’s purpose but can be depressing. Even low middle class wants the opportunity to invest in some things that are better for the money over a store that is just cheap like a Rainbow. I also feel it should be designed with tourists in mind because of that desire to spend spend spend! At least that’s how I am when I’m out of town:) And even just as it stands as the city desires to be a destination for many I’ve always felt there are so many easy changes to make that happen and this is one of them.

    Do you know if the hours will extend with the new development? I’ll assume so since they’re seeking for things to be busier at night.

    • I think they would like the Gallery to be open later, with perhaps some restaurants and maybe even a movie theatre. The city and developers are hoping that Market East becomes a busy place at night. The development at Eighth & Market, if it finally happens, could be the best place for more nighttime entertainment.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this, I haven’t been back to Philadelphia for a very long time, I was probably one of those screaming people outside the Gallery that Phille mentions.

  7. Edgardo Airington says:

    I came upon your website on google and check out a few of your early articles. Continue with the very good posts. Ill likely be by again to read more, thanks for the info!.

  8. michael bernstein says:

    I liked the tour of the Market Street East rehab idea. Long over do. So many fingers in the pie causes nothing of substance to happen. I know you can’t tear it down and start all over again but this is a valued area that is directly linked to the Independence Mall. It should have been a priority by the city. The whole Market Street East area needs a unified theme that lends itself to the historic nature of the city being careful to use “Good” high style architecture within that space and not just glass boxes. This site with either empty lots, unused buildings, or under-used strip stores, needs a comprehensive critical examination by a competent city planner and high-end architect to help make this area what it could and should be. I know this from the inside out; I worked at the Gallery, Mike B.

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