By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – As developer Bart Blatstein continues his pursuit of Philadelphia’s remaining casino license for the old Inquirer Building on North Broad– today, he’ll introduce two of the chefs he’d like to run the casino’s restaurants– he’s also tackling one of the most persistently problematic lots on South Broad Street.
The northeast corner of Broad and Washington has sat vacant for decades. Though it’s hosted special events, such as Cirque du Soleil, it’s mostly a trash- and graffiti-marred eyesore and through several proposals and changes of ownership (movie star Will Smith reportedly once expressed interest in acquiring it), no permanent use has been found for it.
But Blatstein– the man behind the Piazza at Schmidt’s and the Northern Liberties renaissance– believes he has the project that is going to change that. He’s entered into a contract with the New York owners, Hudson Capital, to buy the lot for an undisclosed amount. He also declines to give many details about his project except to say that it will be a “vertical retail center” that will serve “as a commercial hub for the entire area.”
“It’s very exciting. It’s an opportunity to create a walkable community right there at Broad and Washington,” Blatstein tells KYW Newsradio.
He says the area is “under-retailed.”
“Philadelphia has the second-largest downtown population on the east coast, at 180,000 people,” he says. “There’s tremendous growth south of Market, residential-wise, and there’s very little services for the amount of population and traffic in the area.”
Blatstein says he’s meeting with neighborhood groups before moving forward but one neighbor who’s enthusiastic about Blatstein’s ownership of the 5.4 acre plot is designer Elisabeth Garson. She has her own vision for the site– an outdoor “Arts Market,” that would combine crafts, kids activities, performances, food trucks and a flea market on weekends from March to September.
Garson says she’s been trying to sell the idea to Hudson but believes Blatstein will be more receptive.
“The people in New York were great,” she says, “but I always knew it was a thin string, that they don’t live here, they don’t have a caring for this neighborhood. With Bart Blatstein, I feel like he’s an open-minded guy. He does these kind of unconventional things so when I found out it was him (that bought the lot), I was excited. I thought, ‘this is the best chance we’ve ever had.’
“It’s going to be a while till he can do something and he understands interactive outdoor event space,” she said.
Indeed, Blatstein says, he’s intrigued and is planning to meet with Garson to discuss the idea.
Garson is, likewise, intrigued with Blatstein’s plan.
“We all would love retail there,” she says, speaking for her neighbors. “We didn’t want just another high-rise condo. But, honestly, I think we all feel anything there is better than nothing.”