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Landmark $60 million investment to boost Free Library

The Free Library of Philadelphia has announced a $60 million multi-branch development initiative. It will involve not only the significant renovation and expansion of the Parkway Central Library, but of five initial prototype libraries throughout the city. Each will be modernized with the specific needs of their communities in mind.
Known as "Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries," the multi-faceted plan will be funded in part by $4.5 million from the City of Philadelphia and a historic $25 million gift from the William Penn Foundation. According to a release, the funds from William Penn represent "the largest private gift ever received by the Library."  
According to Director and President Siobhan Reardon, the concept for "Building Inspiration" grew from the Free Library's Strategic Plan (PDF) -- essentially a reorganizational effort drawn up after the Library lost roughly 20 percent of its funding from the City and the Commonwealth in 2008 and 2009.
Part of that plan involved looking at the ways in which technology is altering basic library services.

"The changes we've announced are all about how to create an engaging 21st-century library in an older building," explains Reardon.

At the 87-year-old Parkway Central branch, for instance, an 8,000-square-foot area called The Common will be designed by architect Moshe Safdie to operate as a flexible and active community gathering space. The South Philadelphia Library will be fitted with a 'Health Information and New Americans' room. The Logan Library will be getting a family literacy center. The Lovett Memorial, Tacony and Lillian Marrero branches will also see progressive improvements.
"I think what you're going to find interesting at the neighborhood libraries is a very open experience," says Reardon, who adds that most branches should reopen in late 2016. "It's going to be a much more civically-engaged social learning environment."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Siobhan Reardon, Free Library of Philadelphia


As the Science Center expands, plans emerge to upgrade the campus' livability

On September 12, the 51-year-old University City Science Center celebrated the latest addition to its ever-expanding West Philadelphia campus, now home to more than two million square feet of lab and office space.
Known as 3737 Science Center and located at 3737 Market Street, the 13-story glass tower was developed jointly by the Science Center and Wexford Science & Technology. The $115 million building is already at 82 percent capacity.
Indeed, interest in the space from potential life-science and healthcare tenants was so consistently strong throughout construction that an extra two floors (over the originally-planned 11) were added to the plan.
Spark Therapeutics, a gene therapy startup, is occupying the building's top floor. With Penn Medicine as the anchor tenant, other residents include the Penn Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine and, in the tower's ground-floor retail space, the Corner Bakery Cafe, which is expected to open by the end of this year.
3737 Science Center is the campus' 16th building. At nearby 3601 Market Street, the Science Center is currently constructing a 20-story, $110 million residential tower, which broke ground last year. That high-rise, according to President and CEO Stephen Tang, is part of the campus' current philosophy "to be a place to live, work and play," he says. "Not just work, which is quite frankly what we've been doing for most of our 51-year history."  
"We're trying to become a world-class innovation center across University City and not just across the Science Center's campus," he adds. "We really want to be a vibrant center. And that includes attracting smart, creative and innovative people to our campus to live, as well as to work."

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Stephen Tang, University City Science Center

The University City Science Center
 has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia.

Franklin Mills announces major redevelopment project, and a new name to boot

The 25-year-old, 200-store shopping mall and outlet center formerly known as Franklin Mills has announced a major redevelopment project, and a new name to boot.

The mall, which was originally developed by the Mills Corporation which is now owned and operated by Simon Property Group (which also owns the King of Prussia Mall), has been renamed Philadelphia Mills.  
According to The Mills President Gregg Goodman, Simon Property Group had been actively working on plans to upgrade and update the property since as far back as 2007, when it acquired the mall. New customer amenities, he says, were always part of that plan.

Along with mall-wide Wi-Fi, lounge areas with device changing stations will be installed when interior renovations begin early next year.

"The long and short of what we're doing should add up to a completely new shopping experience," he insists.               

New landscaping, updated signage and a modernized façade will all play major roles in the redevelopment. And the mall's interior will be considerably brightened thanks to new flooring and skylights. Even the restrooms will be renovated, and roughly a dozen new retail stores and eateries, including Express Factory Outlet, will be added.     
As for the mall's name change -- the original moniker was a nod to Benjamin Franklin -- Goodman says it was led by a formal branding study.

"But in the end, the reason we went with 'Philadelphia Mills' is probably the most straightforward of all reasons -- the fact that we're actually in the city of Philadelphia," he explains. "Not a lot of people realize that. But we're proud of it, and wanted a name that was emblematic of that."   
A grand reopening event is tentatively scheduled to take place at the Bucks County-bordering Philadelphia Mills sometime in fall 2015.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Gregg Goodman, The Mills

Eleven vacant public schools to become a mix of residential and commercial spaces

The ongoing financial woes of the Philadelphia School District have been a constant presence the local media recently. Two weeks ago, it was the city's School Reform Commission (SRC) that stole headlines -- an unexpected September 18 announcement reveled that the SRC had approved the sale of 11 vacant public school buildings throughout the city, including Germantown High School.      
The City had help from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) in structuring the 11 deals, which will bring in a total of $19.3 million. Yet after the properties close -- a process that is expected to be completed sometime in early 2015 -- it is projected that closing costs and other associated fees will leave the City with a net revenue of only some $2 million.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) will be purchasing four of the vacant schools -- Communications Technology High, Pepper Middle School, John Reynolds Elementary and Rudolph Walton Elementary -- for $3 million each. The PHA says it plans to tear down two of those schools and replace them with a mix of residential and commercial units. One of the buildings will become a residential facility for senior citizens.  
Five of the buildings, including Germantown High and Carroll Charles High, will be sold to the Bethesda, Md.-based Concordia Group, a residential and commercial developer that operates largely in the Washington, D.C. area. Two of the schools going to Concordia -- which will pay $6.8 million for its buildings -- will also become residential buildings of some sort.
And in South Philadelphia, the Edward W. Bok Technical High School building was purchased for $2.1 million by Scout Ltd. LLCPlans are reportedly underway for a mixed-use project featuring a maker-style co-working space, a number of live-work units, and ground-floor retail.

Writer: Dan Eldridge

Germantown's Maplewood Mall Reconstruction Project moves forward with its first public meeting

It's been more than a year since Philadelphia's Department of Commerce announced its intention to spend $2.2 million to redevelop and re-imagine Germantown's Maplewood Mall, a narrow historic retail pathway located near the neighborhood's two main business districts, Germantown Avenue and West Chelten Avenue.
Following months of planning by the design team of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, in partnership with a slew of city agencies ranging from Parks and Recreation to the Streets Department, the very first public meeting to discuss the Mall's reconstruction was held recently at Germantown's First Presbyterian Church.  
Approximately 60 members of the community filled the church's sanctuary. The City Planning Commission's Matt Wysong and 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass expressed their hope that the Mall will look more like a creative placemaking project than a traditional reconstruction of a municipal street.

As a flyer advertising the meeting announced, "The goal is to provide a design that will create a framework for the reinvention of the Mall into a vibrant and successful urban space."
The project is currently in month four of its design and engineering phase, though shovels aren't expected to touch dirt until sometime in early 2016.
In the meantime, Germantown residents are weighing in on the various proposed plans to reengineer the Mall, which could potentially see its roadway slightly lengthened and the small plazas that bookend it significantly redesigned.   
Perhaps the most edifying aspect of the public meeting was the chance for community members to inspect the Mall's three proposed design ideas. A gracefully retro lumberyard theme has already received overwhelming support from business owners and other stakeholders, according to artist Jennie Shanker, who was hired to consult with the project's design and landscape architecture team.    
Click here to view the proposed designs and the meeting's Powerpoint presentation
Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Maplewood Mall Reconstruction Project Public Meeting


Metered parking spaces throughout the city to morph into pop-up parks

As you step outside your home or office this Friday, September 19, don't be surprised if you see your neighbor lounging where their car would normally be parked.

In fact, don't be surprised if an antique coffee table is perched on the sidewalk next to them, or if a working lamp, bookshelf or mini-fridge is alongside in the gutter.   
Every year here in Philadelphia -- and throughout the world, for that matter -- on the third Friday of September, an unusual celebration of public spaces occurs at dozens of metered parking spaces throughout the city.
Known as PARK(ing) Day, the nine-year-old event was first launched in San Francisco, where a single metered parking space was transformed for two hours into a miniature public park by members of an architecture firm. A photo of the temporary installation soon went viral, and by 2011, PARK(ing) Day was being celebrated in 162 cities on six continents.
Here in Philly, more than 50 diminutive pop-up parks will be installed in Center City, Queen Village, Germantown, Fishtown and North Philly, to name a few. An interactive map of the planned parks can be accessed online.
As Erike De Veyra of Zimmerman Studio, which organizes the event locally, points out, the purpose of PARK(ing) Day Philadelphia isn't solely to raise awareness of public spaces. It's also to suggest that public spaces, which bring communities together, don't necessarily need to be large or even particularly expensive in order to serve their purpose.
From 5 to 8 p.m., the Center for Architecture will host an after-party featuring photos from the day. Click here to reserve a spot.  

Insider's Tip: According to De Veyra, a Center City architecture firm historically hosts one of the event's best parks. It's located near the corner of Broad and Walnut.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Erike De Veyra, Zimmerman Studio

Indoor mini-golf comes to Kenzo, and soon to South Philly

Until recently, Philadelphians with a miniature-golf habit had exactly one option within the city proper: the 18-hole course at Center City's Franklin Square, with its family-friendly vibe and Spirit of '76 theme for tourists.
Fortunately, that's no longer the case.
Keystone Mini-Golf and Arcade, an indoor facility with nine holes and a grown-up, party-friendly atmosphere, recently opened at 161 Cecil B. Moore Avenue in Olde Kensington. And, in an unrelated venture, an 18-hole glow-in-the-dark putt-putt course known as Adventurer's Mini-Golf is due to open any day now at 38 Jackson Street in South Philly.
Both businesses feature arcade games and Skee-Ball, and both offer dedicated party rooms. At Keystone Mini-Golf, which proudly advertises itself as a BYOB facility, the party takes place in a backyard gravel lot, open to the elements and outfitted with picnic tables.
Keystone was started by Bucks County natives Bill Cannon and Drew Ferry, who stumbled onto their lightbulb moment after a session at a driving range in Southampton.

"We were walking back to the car and saw a mini-golf course," recalls Ferry. "We thought we could do a little spin on it [in the city], and do it BYO."

The old-school, DIY-style course was put together in about six weeks with the help of Ferry's father, who works in construction. And while Ferry hasn't yet given up his day job as a mover, Keystone's first month went much better than expected.

"It's been amazing," says Cannon. "Yesterday, a guy came in with his girlfriend. Later at night, he came back with a buddy."

On September 21 Keystone is hosting its Inaugural Mini-Golf Open with a $25 buy-in, free beer and prizes. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Bill Cannon and Drew Ferry, Keystone Mini-Golf 


Six 'Groundbreaking' finalists announced for DVGBC's annual celebration of green building

As one of 79 regional chapters under the umbrella of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to its mission -- there it is, in 16-point type atop the "Strategic Plan" page of its website: "Green Buildings for All."
Here in the Delaware Valley, the execution of that vision translates to outreach and public policy work intended to transform the community through environmentally responsible building.

DVGBC also hosts an annual awards ceremony designed to recognize green development projects "that are really cutting-edge and transformational," says Janet Milkman, the Council's executive director. "We've always tried to celebrate the thrust in green building practice in our region," she adds, explaining why this year's ceremony is being referred to as the Groundbreaker Awards.
Six finalists have been chosen out of 20 total nominations. The three winners will be announced during a September 18 awards ceremony at Center City's Suzanne Roberts Theater modeled after the Oscars; attendees will enter on a green carpet.
"Honestly, we had 20 wonderful submissions," says Milkman. "They were all terrific, so the jury had a hard time."

Ultimately, the six finalists were chosen because of their uniqueness in the region, and because of their potential to be modeled by future developement projects.  
UPenn's Shoemaker Green, which is managing stormwater with vegetative infrastructure approaches, is one such project. So is North Philadelphia's residential Paseo Verde, a mixed-income transportation-oriented development (TOD) project, and the first in the country to achieve Platinum status under the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) designation.
Other finalists included KidZooU at the Philadelphia Zoo and the Camden Friends Meeting House and Social Hall in Delaware.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Janet Milkman, DVGBC


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
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