Friday, December 12, 2008

American Commerce Gets Zoning. Now What?

As expected, the site of the proposed American Commerce Center got its zoning upgrade yesterday from City Council, to the C5 classification. Fortunately, the rezoning doesn't mean that developer Hill International has carte blanche to erect a 1,500-foot tower at 18th and Arch Streets. Besides the minor problem of finding tenants who are willing to pull up stakes and take new office space in this plunging economy, the developer is going to have to get the architectural design approved by the Planning Commission and its staff.

That review should show us what stuff the Nutter Administration is made of. It's clear to many people - not just me! - that the developer is trying to cram way too much stuff onto that site. The Design Advocacy Group is preparing a position paper, which I hear will voice concerns about the project's excessive density. In my column last week, I pointed out that the mixed-use ACC project has close to the same square-footage as the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, but it would sit on a site less than HALF the size. Time Warner, by the way, overlooks Central Park; The ACC would lord over 36-foot-wide Arch Street.

The developer has left so little open space at ground level - in sharp contrast to the Comcast tower - that they would have to fulfill their open-space requirement with a garden on top of the six-level shopping mall. Just ask yourself: how many successful multi-level shopping centers have you encountered? How many have successful upper levels? For Exhibit A, please see our very own Gallery. There's a reason it's owners are jumping up and down about the possibility of leasing the third floor to Foxwoods Casino.

But as I wrote, I still believe there are ways to make this proposal acceptable. The developers could slim down the tower and reduce some of the square-footage elsewhere. But here's another idea they ought to consider: Tear down the Stirling Apartment House and move the project to JFK Boulevard. JFK is a much wider street than Arch, and having the entire block would give the city's tallest tower room to breathe. I don't think anyone would complain if Hill rid JFK Boulevard of one of its trio of ugly block-long , slab buildings. You might even argue that they deserve bonus points under the category of public service.

20 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about we tear down your house and put it there, Inga? It may not be the sexiest building in the city, but Stirling House still a home to many Philadelphians...

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Donny said...

I think the residents of the Kennedy House (Philadelphia's ugliest building) are the only people who share your uninformed view on the density and the project. Also,I would expect this paper being composed by members of the Design Advocacy Group to contain serious bias and include the work of certain members of the opposition hired by the Kennedy House ( DAG member Gray Smith) as a continuation of their xenophobia driven efforts to take as much away from this project as possible. One must look at the American Commerce Center from a more worldly perspective rather than from one based on false information and disparate comparisons.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sucessful, urban, multi-level shopping malls? Chicago. Michigan Ave. Several.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Baron Zlatkovsky said...

What is with this phallacious obsession with skyscrapers? Why does a tall pointer sticking up from our skyline suddenly make us a world-class city? Why must we endure assymetrical thinking as well as design?
The Merchandise Mart and the Pentagon never suffered any from having their massiveness close to the ground. We would be far better suited with a block-sized beaux-arts palace of a building, not-unlike the ones we already have-than a so-called skyscraper that looks like an icepick. Much like facelifts, clever appearances don't hide poorly constructed bodies.
On a related matter, perhaps the new budget crisis means we can finally be rid of the dreadful plans for a Safdie library addition. We don't need people coming to Philadelphia to laugh at us.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Timmy said...

Well, demolishing Stirling (and Kennedy) House would certainly solve the neighbor issue for ACC while providing the developer more space!

1:52 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

There are so many problems with tearing down Stirling House (or any other occupied apartment building) that I don't know where to begin. The most fundamental issue with your proposal, however, is simple, and anonymous #1 has it down. Nobody has consulted the residents of Stirling House. This is a moral obligation that is essential to maintaining any sense of community. It's got to be the first step in any humane redevelopment of any site that has residences on it. I don't think you meant to advocate inhumane redevelopment, but that's what the words in your post implied.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous David Salkin said...

Inga:

Your thoughts on the ACC project are well considered. I hope the planning commission takes note !!

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are all-such a bunch of idiots ! SHUT UP !!!!!!

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your more complete article in the Inquirer on the American Commerce Building, you used a line that you have used whenever an "ultra tall" ground braking building is planned for Philly. That is: "There's nothing inherently wrong with a 1,500-foot skyscraper..." and then you proceed to pour on the criticism hoping that they won't ever pour the cement. That is the way you hide you general dislike for all "ultra tall buildings" -- at least those proposed for Philadelphia. Please get a new line!!

9:29 PM  
Blogger Richard Bloom said...

Seems to me Inga has discounted the fact that anything so novel in Philadelphia as a 1500-foot skyscraper (and its shopping center) will succeed here, just because this city has never had one before. Recall how sales at the Gallery were two or three times the average of malls around the country when it was new. Sure, everything grows stale after a while, but I don't see that happening to the ACC any time soon. Think of the number of workers within a few blocks of the development who will shop in the new center just because it's there, as they did at First Pennsylvania's Center Square a generation ago....

8:11 AM  
Blogger Crux said...

The Gallery is mostly a "below grade" experience, so while I agree with Inga that the Gallery is a dud of a mall, it is not the ideal model for comparing a multi-level shopping-plex. As a previous commenter notes, CHI does have some decent mulit-story malls, but one access them from the street, not taking an elevator 10 floors up to get to the actual starting point.

And LOL on the Kennedy House tear down. I will add that to the long list of Philadelphia projects that are anti-urban and poorly executed. Right now the list is mostly populated with anything on Jefferson's Center City Campus. (Though Jeff may be turning the corner with the new project btw 10/11 on Locust).

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anywhere and any time a "tallest" building has been built, it has been a smokescreen for civic corruption. Skyscrapers are simply not efficient buildings.
Furthermore, Philadelphia hasn't erected a tall building of any significance since the PSFS building. The rest are provincial copies of existing buildings in actual "world-class" cities, including this latest specualtive venture. The name, American Commerce Center, alone should be a warning that it is politically and not economically motivated.

10:10 AM  
Blogger rasphila said...

In fairness I should add that I agree with both your column and your blog post about ACC. It's far too dense for the space. I'm also not convinced that it's a good location, but that won't matter unless the proposal is revamped.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Fernando08 said...

Where to begin? I'll assume that the substantive proposition is that we now see a too tall building with too mixed a message in cramming in multi-commercial usages in too small of a space onto too small of a street. Of course, compared to NYC, which is of course a big enough town with big enough sites for general purpose bigness. Thank God Inga isn't in love with Texas where they can handle big. But Philadelphia can't. Not big enough of a town. We don't think big enough or when we do it's derivative. Or politics is involved instead of the rational decision making process of the market and its unerring quantitative imperatives which is fundamentally the only moral calculus. But I digress. The transportation hub is where it is. This is the site that is cleared and ready to be built on top of one of the finest global regional commuter rail systems. And the developer is going to cram as much as he can physically engineer and financial support. He will not build a building that will fall down and no one will give him money because of his boy-ish good looks. He will run a gauntlet of financial scrutiny which will exceed the withering pseudo-intellectual postings of this site. If it gets built, and it's chances are better than most of the guesses here would indicate, it will deserve to be born into a great city. If people who even have a passing interest in the subject of this blog have to engage in a discussion of whether or not you live in a great city of global impact than please try to look like you have done more than just transplanted from Indiana, Nebraska or Kentucky. Try to represent an opinion that is actually informed with something more than a venal nature.

1:52 AM  
Anonymous Davis said...

It's a lousy location for such a building - especially one as truly ugly as this pretentious monster.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Philatonian said...

I don't necessarily agree that a Center City mall is automatically a bad idea. The Gallery suffers because of mismanagement and poor integration with its surroundings while The Shops at Liberty Place succeed because they are a compliment to an office complex and the central business district as ACC's shopping complex would as well. However I do agree that this is not the best design for this lot. I'd love to see a 1500' building in Center City and I think it can still happen on this lot with some changes. No one is prepared to purchase and level the Sterling and Kennedy House, but I love the irony behind its residents' claims that the ACC is poor urban planning. Unfortunately developers have to work with the locations they aquire and can't simply decide to relocate a project to one of the many lots in the city in need of redevelopment.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just tear down the Gallery and put the ACC there - so many problems solved:

- would fianlly revive Market East as a business and retail center

- would be on top of a major trasnportation center (with a link to PATCO as well - unlike Arch Street)

- would replace a stale retail center while, at the same time, not depriving the city of any retail since it will be added back (hopefully in better form) with the new ACC mall.

- would not have to worry about the market for retail since it already exists in Market East

- would front a broader street - Market.

- would finally provide some non-covnention-related business to support the hotels and restaurants in the area.

etc., etc.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just tear down the Gallery and put the ACC there - so many problems solved:

- would fianlly revive Market East as a business and retail center

- would be on top of a major trasnportation center (with a link to PATCO as well - unlike Arch Street)

- would replace a stale retail center while, at the same time, not depriving the city of any retail since it will be added back (hopefully in better form) with the new ACC mall.

- would not have to worry about the market for retail since it already exists in Market East

- would front a broader street - Market.

- would finally provide some non-covnention-related business to support the hotels and restaurants in the area.

etc., etc.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Just Slim Down the Tower"

Wow.. just really show how much you don't know about construction and design.

Just waste the millions you already spent on design.

1:38 PM  
Anonymous R. DASH said...

Im so sick of her articles and I completely agree with the 9th comment. She praises development in NY and CHI and when it comes to PHL, she finds everythying wrong, yes I have questioned whether the ACC will fit or not, but it is what it is and that part of CC is boring anyway. If she doesnt like construction in Philly dont write for the Inquierer, write for the NYTimes.

12:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home