I ride my bike around Philadelphia a lot. I’m not some spandex-wearing fanatic, I’m just a practical guy who knows a good mode of transportation when he sees one. It’s free and I get a little bit of exercise. Most importantly, it gives me a refreshing view of the ever-evolving city that I’ve called home for most of my life. There’s something about the perspective you get riding a bike that you just don’t get in a car or the back of an Uber.
For years, I couldn’t help but notice that a large portion of Market Street in the heart of Center City felt dated and underutilized. Just a few blocks east is Old City, home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and a solid selection of restaurants, bars and shops. To the west is City Hall and monstrous skyscrapers. To the north is Chinatown — home not only to some noodle spots that’ll change your life but also to the one million square foot Pennsylvania Convention Center. To the South is the bustling, gorgeous campus of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
But Market East (as it used to be called) seemed like a missed opportunity. Shouldn’t this be a bustling retail hub? Why is there no grocery store? Why does nobody seem to live or work around here? Is there any place to grab a beer and a burger? It’s in the heart of Center City for crying out loud.
That was Old Philadelphia.
Now a new $800 million development called East Market promises to build, basically, a new neighborhood where people live, work and play in the same area. It’s $400 million Phase One was recently completed. Here’s a rundown:
This is New Philadelphia.
Daniel Killinger of the National Real Estate Advisors gave me a tour of the space—and it didn’t disappoint. He explained that 1100 Ludlow, which houses the office space, had once been a warehouse for the Snellenburg’s Department Store, which shut its doors in 1962. It then housed the Community College of Philadelphia and the family court. Now, the space has since been gutted to expose 15-foot high ceilings, massive windows, concrete floors, striking white columns and lots of gorgeous views.
The workspaces have something for everyone—large open floor plans flanked by lots of conference rooms and private office space. Collaborate on the floor, then take meetings or do heads-down focus work in the quieter spaces. It’s already got an impressive list of tenants, including Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architecture firm that designed the Apple Store and Bill Gates’ house.
“We think it’s where the entrepreneurs, the creatives—our tenants—want to be,” said Killinger. “So many of the old office buildings have been converted to residential so there’s much less of this in the city.”
The development is an attractive spot for businesses. Last year, real estate company JLL named it the most affordable retail corridor in the country.
The residential spaces are equally impressive. The common areas inside The Girard and The Ludlow not only feature amenities like a pool, fitness areas, barbecue stations and ‘living walls’ of plants—but also coworking lounges with private conference rooms and printers. The retail features carefully selected Philly favorites like Iron Hill Brewery, Little Baby’s Ice Cream, City Fitness, MOM’s Organic Market and Wawa—a convenience store with an almost cult-like following in Philly.
“Thinking of this as a neighborhood, we need a great gym, we need a great market, we need a place to get a burger and a beer, you need a Wawa,” said Killinger. “We think the same people who work here are going to want to live here. We want to create that ecosystem.”
At the moment, the project is halfway finished. Three more structures remain—a hotel, a residential building and another office building. But will it attract that coveted older millennial like myself to think about working and living in the region? At the very least, it’ll get me to think more about pulling my bike into the “new neighborhood” and grabbing a beer or a bite to eat.