Development

Designing a Masterpiece

Philadelphia developer plans condominium project for city's cultural center.

On sunny days in Philadelphia, people gather along Ben Franklin Parkway, which stretches from City Hall, down through Museum Mile, to the city’s western edge at the Schuylkill River and Fairmount Park. It is the city’s pinnacle of art and culture, lined with major museums and education centers. Just off the parkway are community parks where citizens walk, run, and row, memorials, and a waterfall.

Like other cities’ cultural centers, Philadelphia’s draws tourists, students, and residents into the museum area during the day. However, once darkness falls, the museums close and the souvenir carts roll away, leaving few other attractions to keep people there.

As a result, few people live there, or even close by. This poses a potential challenge to developers, but it actually can be a developer’s dream: To build up an underdeveloped area capable of sustaining a growing community.

Taking on the Project

The Klein Co., a Philadelphia-based real estate firm specializing in the development, construction, and management of luxury multifamily residential communities, took up this challenge by planning a condominium with retail space at the eastern edge of Ben Franklin Parkway known as Logan Square. This also complies with city council’s efforts to establish neighborhoods outside the city’s core.

Urban planners must recognize such areas as prime locations for development -- places that are ripe with daytime activity, yet missing a key element necessary to keep the area vibrant at night.

For a successful project in this case, we knew the project had to first accentuate and capitalize on the positive aspects of the area. These include landscaped areas, neighboring parks, and the scenic drive along the banks of the river. Such attributes stimulate activity, and create a growing neighborhood in an otherwise under-utilized location.

Gramercy on the Park, the condominium tower of approximately 150 residences with retail space that we planned for Logan Square, leverages the high points of the location -- namely, its proximity to Museum Mile and the city’s most renowned cultural attractions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Franklin Institute, Academy of Natural Sciences, the Rodin Museum, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

In addition, our analysis determined that a residential development anchored to an enclave of cultural institutions would provide the setting needed for keeping cultural centers vibrant and alive after hours. Cultural centers attract many working professionals and empty nesters, the target market for new high-rise condominiums.

Selling the Idea

Once The Klein Co. secured the Logan Square neighborhood for Gramercy on the Park, we conducted market research to examine every aspect of the project. We studied specific aspects of the project to determine whether the area was viable for development. This included the location’s city views, short walk to the city’s business district, proximity to major thoroughfares, and parking logistics.

In addition to marketing, the last hurdle we have to jump over is getting the approval of a community group that is unsure if the building’s design will fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. We at The Klein Co. are addressing these challenges head on with a series of strategic steps:

1. Altering public perception. Philadelphia’s cultural center is separated from its core. While planning Gramercy on the Park, we needed to promote the potential value of living in the shadow of cultural institutions. In order to do this, we emphasized the high points of the neighborhood, such as Wednesday night jazz concerts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and IMAX theater showings at the Franklin Institute.

These events often are under-promoted, so drawing attention to them should attract more people and increase the number and frequency of the events. The upside: Businesses will prosper, and the value of the residential units will increase.

Additionally, developing Gramercy on the Park in this location will help bridge the gap between Museum Mile and the Central Business District.

2. Spelling out the positives. While plenty of daytime visitors are enough to attract retail lessees, the challenge lies in overcoming any reservations potential residents might have about living in an area that attracts visitors from outside the neighborhood.

We promote the idea that as people move into the neighborhood, it creates a sense of community. Suddenly, the area is tagged with a recognizable name, but it remains affordable for working professionals and empty nesters.

3. Selling the transportation benefits. Gramercy on the Park is close to Philadelphia’s major expressway. We will highlight the advantages of living close to I-676, which includes quick access to the city’s suburbs. This is a major selling point for residents who once lived there.

We also emphasize the convenient proximity to Philadelphia International Airport and 30th Street Station, the city’s main train terminal, a benefit that stands in stark contrast to living in Rittenhouse Square, a densely populated residential and commercial district in the heart of the city.

4. Alleviating concerns of community groups. As with any development, getting the blessing of these groups is difficult. There always are those who resist change, and express concern about parking issues, architectural issues, or public space disappearing from the neighborhood.

The Klein Co. keeps the community board up to date with building designs. We also address how adding residential development to Logan Square will help to realize the potential of the area’s dynamic offerings.

5. Looking to the future. The cultural anchors in the Logan Square neighborhood are undergoing a revitalization of their own. The Free Library of Philadelphia will get a 160,000 square foot expansion designed by world renowned architect Moshe Safdie. Another famous architect, Frank Gehry, will design an 80,000-sf addition to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Franklin Institute, Moore College of Art and Design, and Academy of Natural Science all have unveiled plans to renovate nearby public space and to use adjacent open space for exhibits. Logan Square itself currently is undergoing a $1 million landscaping overhaul.

Most notably, the Barnes Foundation, home to several important art pieces, will be moved from the western suburbs to Museum Mile and will become available to the general public.

Like other cities before it, if all goes to plan, Philadelphia will soon be home to a 24-hour cultural arts center. With the appropriate planning and marketing, the bustling Logan Square area will become a full-blown arts community.

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