A Spectrum-area brainstorm By Matt Wolfe

This article was published by The Philadelphia Daily News. Click here to read the article on the publisher’s website.

LET’S SAY you’re taking the subway to take in a Phillies game. When you emerge from underground, what do you see?

If your answer is “parking lots,” you’re not looking at things quite right. What do I see? Opportunity.

Ed Snider sees opportunity, too. That’s why he announced that the Spectrum is coming down to be replaced by a hotel/ retail/entertainment complex. Earlier in the year, it was said, in effect, that the Spectrum was profitable, but the planned complex would be more profitable.

But is someone around here still thinking too small?

The decision to build the Phillies’ stadium in the stadium complex rather than downtown was a big mistake. Anyone who’s been to a game in Baltimore or Cleveland sees the difference.

Restaurants normally packed for lunch but not for dinner do a strong dinner business on game days. Bars that are normally slow are filled after the game. Parking garages that usually sell most of their parking spaces between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. are now selling another space between 5 and 9 p.m. Retail stores are busy. There’s a buzz in the air.

In Philly, fans drive to the game, park in the lot and leave after the game. The ballpark might as well be in South Jersey for all the good it does the city. Same with the indoor arenas. Madison Square Garden does well in crowded Manhattan.

It’s too late to do bring the stadiums downtown, but it’s not too late to bring downtown to the stadium complex.

Comcast has long had an option to develop the area between the Spectrum and the Wachovia Center. Imagine, however, if rather than developing that area alone that we extend the city street grid through the stadium complex and integrate it with the surrounding areas?

Instead of parking lots, we give incentives to the developers to build underground parking. We know that there is a big market for parking in the area, but rather than have it spread on the surface, we should build garages, while requiring that they have commercial space such as retail and restaurants on the ground floor street level.

This is an area that is at the end of the Broad Street Subway line, as well as served by the Schuylkill Expressway and I-95. There are other inventive proposals for improvements to the public transportation infrastructure. It’s not unreasonable to think that people might actually want to live and work in the area. Offices, apartments, condos and houses would find a market if part of a visionary overall plan.

The surface parking lot is the most inefficient use of urban real estate. If we can exercise a little vision, we are in a fortunate position. Rather than looking at a sea of parking lots surrounding four stadium islands, we have acres of cleared urban land with four stadium anchors to spur development. With vision, we have the ability to plan an entire new city neighborhood from the ground up. We can plan the infrastructure, traffic patterns and placement of different uses.

I’m not advocating either saving or tearing down the Spectrum. There’s a lot of history there, but anyone who has been to hotly contested Big 5 games at the Spectrum and the Palestra knows the Spectrum ain’t no Palestra. Looking at the relatively small area that Comcast has to develop, I have no doubt that Comcast is right and that a more profitable use could be made of the land the Spectrum sits on. On the other hand, that analysis might be different if the profitability of the Spectrum were looked at in terms of the development of the entire area.

MAYOR Nutter has talked about the increased importance of city planning in his administration.

This is an area with no less potential than the waterfront. Comcast has thrown down the gauntlet. Rather than look only at the merits of the plan for the area between the Spectrum and the Wachovia Center, its approval should be based upon how it benefits the broader area. *

J. Matthew Wolfe is a Republican ward leader in West Philadelphia and is writing for the Loyal Opposition, a Republican policy group focused on issues facing the city.

 

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