Monday, October 02, 2006

When All Else Fails, Build a Garage

Unable to build the 58-story luxury condo tower at 15th and Chestnut Streets that it's been talking about for nearly five years, Mariner Properties has come up with a new scheme: Build a luxury garage instead! Talk about trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

In a little news item buried on the bottom corner of the Inquirer business section, developer Timothy J. Mahoney exults that the 10-story garage facing Chestnut Street will be "region's most expensive and beautiful parking garage." Yes. He is actually proud of that. Ultimately - that is, if the market rebounds and his company can get its act together - Mahoney, who is backed by Brook Lenfest's money, would like to put a tower on top of the garage. But who knows when that day might come.

Does anyone believe that dropping a 10-story public garage at the atrociously congested intersection of 15th and Chestnut is really a good idea? It was bad enough when it was an accessory garage designed to serve the residents of the condo tower. The frequency of coming and going from a condo garage is far less than the pace at a principle-use public garage. At 10 levels, this garage is likely to hold 300 to 500 cars. It's not clear just yet what permits will be needed, or whether Mahoney's company will have to get a variance for this - uh - modification of the original design, especially since the site was rezoned for maximum height. But there absolutely needs to be a review hearing. The new master plan by the Center City Residents Association forbids principle-use garages in its sector, as does the recent parking policy approved by the Planning Commission. But it's anyone's guess whether the More-Parking-Is-Better Zoning Board will bother to take either policy into account.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

can't let this happen

1:41 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

What a disaster this would be. This is not only about congestion and misuse of the space, but larger issues like climate change and the nature of our city. How can we cut our greenhouse gas emissions when instead of improving our alternatives to the private car we provide "the most beautiful parking garage on the East Coast"? (That phrase is a contradiction in terms anyway. Whoever heard of a beautiful parking garage?) And how can the city be a good place to live when this kind of travesty happens at its heart?

Anonymous is right. But how do we stop it?

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is terrible! The location is amazing for a real building. It should not be wasted on a parking garage...especially when it will only cause more congestion to an already congested area.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inga, the only thing that needs to be reviewed is why Philadelphia can't attract any JOBS that would pay enough money to fill those 300 condos in Mahoneys 58 story master piece. Maybe John Street should take a bunch of city leaders and parachute off 2 Liberty Place after they convert it to condos. Maybe a hard landing by the city's elite would soften up the job market; since all of Gotham is clueless on how to put a strategic plan together to attract those JOBS!!!

6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How pathetic. If that garage goes in, I am downgrading my opinion of Philadelphia as a city. A garage at that location is suburban and sunbelt. Disgusting turn of events.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy obviously was not prepared for the changing real estate market. Looks like he is pulling all his chips off the table.

Google "Main Line Times" to see an article about this same developer (or at least another developer with the same name) scrapping yet another project.

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate garages. I hate the people who complain about parking, (move to the suburbs and get yourself a driveway). I hate street and the planning commision is a joke.

BUT, if it WILL be attractive to look at, it's better than the nothing that is currently there. Also it could be turned into a condo or office building at a later time (look at the loft district, the Aria, south bridge condos was a parking garage for TANKS for crying out loud!) I for one will take it.
I know, I know, we should expect more.
You are right, but until we get some real leadership in this city, we have to take what we can get.
We should all be looking for a reform candidate for mayor. This city is in a bad way.

7:53 AM  
Blogger bobgantor said...

horrible idea!
I can't beleive taht anyone would even think this is a good idea, in any shape or form. all of this is because his ego got in the way when he needed to combine with the other developer. Egos shouldn't be allowed into these discussions.

you would think that big time business people could not act like children, but I guess not.

if this thing is built, I hope every luxury fat cat car gets dented and dinged up.

Philadelphia has GOT to get it's head away from the idea of a car oriented life...

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the question is why aren't there any damn jobs in Philadelphia. Instead of a condo tower, I want to see an OFFICE TOWER at that location. It's a great location for a freaking OFFICE TOWER.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Philadelphia require active uses on the street level for a developement like this, or will it just be a beautiful blank facade? I also wonder what is happening at the street level at other condo developments in the city, since they don't seem to have underground parking.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unless you are lucky enough to ride PATCO, suburban guests don't end up on the "Avenue of the Arts" by train. They drive to shopping, hotels, and plays. All the newly arrived condo residents came, I suspect, with a car or two.

When public transport evolves as a cheap and desirable option there will be no need for parking garages. Advocating bike lanes? Hopefully the city can mediate the ground floor with workable retail and limit the placement of curb cuts. With your thread last week on advocating planning this is a place City Planners have let down. There is no parking built for the existing Convention Center. It was taken out of the budget. That much underground parking would have helped to delay some of these ancilary garages from sprouting up..

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They should start by putting the garage underground, which would truly be a beautiful garage - unseen.

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to calm down. There will be a garage...and then there will be a tower. Its 2 phases and the 2nd may never happen, so be it. Its the nature of development and it's not your land!

Desireable condo units only start at the 8th or 9th floor..away from the congestion of the city. They just need to come up with a constructive use for the ground floor and attractive articulation for the garage to give it some street presence.

chill people, chill.....

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^It's not our land. It is our city.


In the history of the country, land use has been regulated by various means. Zoning was in place for most of the Twentieth Century. You cannot build a power plant at 15th and Chestnut because of the effect on adjecent property and the tens of thousands of people who pass the site every day.

A garage has negative consequences for the city in this location and few if any positive impacts -- hence a basis for regulation.

9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I drive to the city and hate it. I would take the train if it ran past midnight. The city and state are to blame for making parking so expensive and hard. This has made the garage profitable- all a developer wants.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, has anyone seen what the garage will look like?

Doesn't look so bad to me for now.

9:30 AM  
Blogger bobgantor said...

**Its the nature of development and it's not your land!**
what an assinine comment! it's attittude like that that tore down the buildings on sansom street for a garage, and then left it as a lot for several years till the "developer" was forced to make a surface parking lot...
yes it's not my land, but if we let developers just do what they want, we would have a lot worse...
as long as people just think of themselves and not the big picture, we'll have dumb, dumb , dumbideas like this one.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its not terrible. (terrible is the murder rate in Philly) It wouldn't be a disaster (a real disaster is Katrina or Dafur)Its not pathetic (the current Republican scandal is)
Hate is a very strong word. Dumb, dumb ideas are what's currently going on in the Middle East.

Like I said...chill people...chill.

10:43 PM  
Blogger bobgantor said...

no one is comparing these things to each other, except you..."chilly"
and it's because no one says anything or lets things slide, that things like this happen. Parking/car usage is a MAJOR problem in PHILADELPHIA. thus it should be open for debate...and sometimes that debate gets heated.

unless your trolling, and that would mean your TRYING to stir the pot.

This garage shouldn't be built. by him using for that means he's thumbing his nose at the people that actually LIVE here and saying "I'll do what i want" which is why he couldn't build what he proposed in the first place...because he wasn't willing to listen and compromise with the other builder...he lost and now is stuck having to build a condo for cars...
it's about discussion...not letting people bully you into "chilling"

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Center City and don't own a car - so a parking garage would not be my first choice. But with that said a developer has the right to make a return on their money. The Center City Residents Association can not have their cake and eat it too. They can not tie projects up in endless discussions and arguments and then expect that a year later a developer will still want to deal with them or a project. We lost a very nice proposal at 20th and Market that would have provided a needed upscale grocer with a unique street scape. Why did we lose it? Because after a year of arguing about a 6-story above ground garage the developers could not longer build their project and make a profit. Who lost? We all did and why? Because the CCRA is opposed to above ground garages and they flexed their muscle. Their demands made the project at 20th and Market no longer feasible and I would bet that this is the same situation at 15th and Chestnut.

What we need is someone who will look out for the GREATER good of all residents and taxpayers in Philadelphia. And that is not the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board NOR the architecture critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course i'm trying to stir the pot. I have opinions, but its fun reading the responses from those who get all riled up.

That said, there are market forces at work here. Cities are complex organisms. If an owner wants to build a garage...put the foundation in to support a tower...and then build the tower at a later date- it's not THAT bad of an idea. Its been done before. It sounds like a plan. Its capitalism at its finest, Bobby.

7:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong about it, as long as its legal. It's one thing for the ZBA to allow a parking garage with the assumption that there will be a beautiful high-rise condo built above it. It's another thing to allow a parking garage if only THERE MIGHT SOMEDAY be a beautiful hirh-rise condo built above it. The phrase "bait and switch" comes to mind.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To annonymous 10:43. I don't think the Republican scandal has anything to do with Philly's murder rate. The democratic gov't led by Mayor Street should be held accountable along with the current Police Commissioner. Do you think it's the lack of quality JOBS in the city? No strategy to bring big time employers in? The city can only provide jobs at parking lots like 1441 Chestnut until we get an administration that gives a damn. Do I hear Republicans anyone?

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First -

This is as attractive a garage as you can find anywhere. Second - who can disagree that there is a need for parking in Center City? All of those dollars that flow into the city every weekend from the suburbs come need a parking place.

Heck, even during the day parking in the Avenue of the Arts area is at a premium.

I don't want to hear about mass transit. Who really wants to deal with pools of urine and unreliable late-night service after dinner and a show?

Sustained Center City development requires careful planning AND PARKING.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re the drawing -
Maybe it's me, but I don't see any *driveways* How many would a ten story garage need anyway? Four? More?

2:05 PM  
Blogger bobgantor said...

if we want to compare ourselves to other world class cities (IE:If the smoking ban can happen in LA and NY, it can happen here.) then we should be working towards a better transit system...or at least change the perception of transit, taht it's not ALL urine stained and poorly run.
the reason transit is not a priority is because the city caters to the gas guzzling, exhaust fuming (if the city wants to protect my lungs, there's more car exhaust then cigarette smoke going into them!) road hogging vehicles.
The day that someone realizes taht it's not their RIGHT to drive, but a privaledge, is the day that someone might decide to find an alternative to whatever makes just THEIR lives easier.

living together in a city, means learning to think about each other and the BIGGER picture.

and all that money that flows from the suburbs? it pales in comparison to the BUSINESS and the TOURISM that flows through the city.

The Mayor of NY takes the subway to work everyday.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all get your facts right, Mahoney was the one held up by Spencer for 6 years, so don't make Spencer out as the martyr and saint.

Second, only because of Spencer's delays is Mahoney now faced with a lousy condo market, which is also having a profound impact on Spencer's RATR project. According to Spencer's own figures from a presentation he made to the CCPA a week or so ago, the RATR is less than 25% pre-sold. Spencer's sales agreements clearly disclose that he needs 50% presales to get his construciton financing released, or the contracts can be voided by the developer.

What's worse, a podium garage with attractive retail and the infrastructure in place for a future tower that will most likely get built, or a partially built condo tower that sits as a black eye for the whole city to see for years (much like the Meridian Tower sat for 9 years?

Does anyone remember the Rittenhouse and how long it sat in a similar state of semi-completion through the 80's when the original developer went belly up?

If Mahoney builds the podium it sure as hell is better than a surface lot.

Get over it people, and Inga, get off your high horse about parking garages. The fact is that the two sites will never be combined, and Mahoney has the legal right to put up his building. There is no law that I'm aware that prohibits phased construction, and Mahoney obtained the legal right from teh ZBA to use the garage as public parking while the condo's are under development.

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

uhhhh. . . .where in the zoning code does it give someone the legal right to build a parking garage (only)?

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not disagree that above-ground parking is not the most desirable feature to have along a dynamic urban street, however this garage was originally approved as part of the proposed condo tower at this location. The market may have softened for now, but the developer has gone to great pains and spent a great deal of money to get his project to the point it is at today. In all likelihood, the residential market will start to come back by late 2007/early 2008 and there will again be demand for the proposed tower. To not build anything after the ordeal that this property owner has gone through would be a crime. In a vibrant downtown core like Center City, there will no doubt be continued demand for residential development which all but guarantees that the condo tower will be constructed at some point in the future. (Not to mention - as far as garages go, I don't think it looks too bad.)

For those who lament above-ground parking garages perhaps they do not understand the economic and legal realities that go into building such a structure. If Philadelphia wants underground parking so badly (and I think it is a great idea), why doesn't the city offer tax incentives to building and garages developers to build these below ground structures just like the city has been offering incentives to rehab existing buildings into new residential housing. As residents concerned about the look and feel of the city, we have to look at the reality of the cost of what we are demanding of builders and developers. We can't assume that these people are building above ground garages merely because they have bad taste or they don't care about the vitality of city streets. These people put a tremendous amount of money at risk on each project and they don't do it for charity's sake or for the greater good of the community. This city and its residents need to back up the criticism with some positive suggestions that work for everyone involved.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is your comment a joke??? No, these people are not building above ground garages "merely because they have bad taste or they don't care about the vitality of city streets." They are doing it because they can count on the City to bend (break?) the law and let them get away with it!!! More tax breaks? What a joke!

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Developers build buildings because they can earn a profit, period. They don't invest millions to satisfy some civic duty or other altruistic purpose. Don't be so naive.

This City has had no development for years and now it's finally getting some in spite of a lousy, bloated and institutionally corrupt city government.

As long as the city has a zoning code that requires every use to have accesory parking based on an arbitrary ratio, and as long as our mass transit system remains the mess that it has become, the end users and consumers will keep demanding even higher parking ratios to park their beloved cars, and garages will be a required component of virtually every large project.

When the projects become very dense, on relatively small urban lots, it is virtually impossible or at the very least economically impractical to bury it all underground, no matter how much of a tax break or incentive you give the developer.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:56 - perhaps I did not state my point clearly. Real estate developers, while I am sure they enjoy doing what they do and enjoy the pride that comes in changing the face of the city (hopefully for the better), are driven by profit more than anything else - just like any other business people. I still think a tax incentive is better than nothing - perhaps an abatement on property taxes for a period of time or a break on the sales tax from garage revenues for a period of time. Municipalities will never lower their parking requirements; mass transit isn't getting better anytime soon; and the cost of construction will always go up.

5:28 - do you have anything productive to add besides "everyone is a crook; everyone is corrupt; all developers and city officials are in bed together; etc." Other than referring to existing laws and a broken system, how else can the city and its residents encourage private developers to build underground structures without creating an economic strain on their projects?

This seems to be an interesting topic for a few people (especially Inga) and I am curious to hear what kind of solutions people have to offer to stop the proliferation of these above-ground garages. Lamenting about corruption, incompetence and everything else that's wrong with city government does not seem to be getting it done. Development is a GREAT thing and we shouldn't be crying about it now that we finally have it, but there are creative ways to guide the private sector into creating the kind of city that works for everybody.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You all need a background in business and finance. Mahoney and Lenfest will avoid at all cost building (or getting stuck with) only the podium. There is no way to make parking and retail revenue cover any more than maybe 5% of the estimated $40 milion cost of building the tower's garage/retail podium. Ergo, it is NOT in Mahoney's plan. Mahoney was joking when he made his comment and Inga and other people who heard him missed it by a mile. Think in terms of cash and it becomes obvious.

10:07 AM  

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