Monday, February 25, 2008

Breaking: Rittenhouse Wawa Effs Loyal Customers, Set To Inexplicably Shut Its Doors Forever on February 29th, 2008

rittenhouse wawa to closeWow, Wawa. Wow.

You really know how to make a girl neighborhood feel special, don’t you?

So, yea, news came this weekend that the venerable Rittenhouse Wawa at 20th and Locust is closing. Abruptly. And for good. At the end of this month. i.e. four short days from now.

Why? Good question. Let’s start the assuming…

Word on the street is that the lease expired and Wawa didn’t want to pay the new, higher rent. However, this seems somewhat fishy since the interior went under an extensive renovation not even a year ago. To us, it seems like a very last minute decision that resulted from failed lease negotiations.

So now the Dorchester, possibly still smarting from its recent expose in Philly Mag, allegedly wants a new tenant without as much foot traffic. And/or they (or their agent, the Salove Company) simply tried to raise the rent more than Wawa was willing to pay.

And apparently Wawa decided that it is more than content to continue its flight (or rather, return) to the gas station-loving embrace of the suburbs, where it can have its stores’ revenues bolstered by petrol sales. (Remember,
that the Wawa Express at 16th and Walnut closed — also due to increased rent, mind you — a few years earlier and was never replaced.)

So, if we’d have to call it now, it appears that Wawa is the bad guy here. And, we guess, so is the Dorchester for being greedy.

Basically, our complaint comes down to quality of life. This Wawa significantly improved the quality of life for thousands of Rittenhouse Square residents. Its convenience was, in a word, amazing.
We feel pretty confident saying that losing this Wawa is going to adversely affect the quality of life for a lot of people like us.

(And, yes, we know there’s another Wawa two blocks away. But those two blocks are an eternity, psychologically speaking. And the Chestnut Street Wawa sucks compared to the one at Locust. Sucks.)

So for it to pack up and leave town without so much as an explanation or a goodbye is surprisingly cold-hearted. Oh, wait. We forgot about the “bittersweet” note (above) from Wawa's CEO posted on the door.

Basically, Wawa is saying the Rittenhouse business and clientele is not worth the rent.

And to that, we say: FUCK YOU, Wawa Corporate. You are some dumb fucking twits if you don’t recognize that Center City’s increasingly young and affluent residents are some of the most sought-after consumers a retailer could have. Forgive us for the economics lesson, but fuck — that's why you pay a premium for Center City real estate.

Seriously. Super smart move. Definitely don’t want herds of early adopters patronizing your store and your products and then telling their friends about it. That would be totally undesirable. And totally not worth it.

Have fun selling gas to your treasured suburban customers.

We’ll do our best not to miss you, you capricious backstabbing whores.

* Note: Countless — and we literally mean count-less, as in not countable — times we’ve patronized said Wawa, both sober and not, to enjoy some type of necessary refreshment. So forgive us if we seem a bit jaded.

A request for comment to Wawa elicited a "will look into this" response.

UPDATE: A Salove rep tells us that Salove Company did not represent the Dorchester for this space/transaction even though they’ve worked with the Dorchester recently on its other retail spaces.

UPDATED UPDATE: Holy shit. Kirsten tells us that Wawa actually owns the property and is trying to sell it, which the Wawa website confirms (last listing). So this really means WHAT. THE. FUCK. Why are they leaving if they own the fucking property and bought it two decades ago for a nickel??? There, literally, is now no excuse for Wawa to be leaving this location, other than, you know, 1) them hating fun and 2) them hating a young, smart, affluent and influential customer base. Go figure.

Is Wawa is selling this space to cash in of 20 years of property value increases and to rid Rittenhouse Square of a 24-hour convenience store that it loved?? Well, what say you Wawa? Mr. Stoelkel??

UPDATE III: There will be a “Wawa Vigil” on Thursday night around 11 p.m. in front of the store. It is “not going to disrupt commercial activity in the store — on the contrary, [they] plan to buy up whatever is left, and thank everyone inside for serving [them] all these years — but after indulging in the Wawa goodness, [they]'re hoping to stage some nice photo opps [sic] out front with signs, maybe some candles, who knows.” Well done.

Wawa Company Profile: Our Gasoline Is Actually a Mixture of Whale Skin Oil, Bald Eagle Feathers and Children’s Tears [ Wawa, Official Site ]

[ Photo and on-site intel courtesy of Rickety Cricket ]

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Urban Dispatch: How to preserve the Rittenhouse Coffee Shop while simultaneously building a dope-ass Rittenhouse high-rise

[ From time to time, we’ll post a dispatch from another city that could serve as an example of how Philadelphia might accomplish something similarly smart. ]

The proposed Castleway development on Rittenhouse Square is something we are all about.

See, here at The Illadelph, we are proponents of smart growth. When a developer approaches the city and says he wants to build a mixed-use development that boasts a hotel, condo and lots of great street level retail, all inside a building that adheres to several core competencies of urban-friendly design, we applaud them for doing so. And say “wow, we really appreciate that. You bet you should have a C5 Zoning Upgrade.”

Because to make the effort to bury parking underground, to put truck loading and deliveries underground as well so as to not mar the vibrant streetscape of the area, and to include “ample ground-floor retail, and a potentially terrific strip park running between Walnut and Sansom” in the development are all signs that we’re dealing with a developer who recognizes the potential of the real estate they possess and who wants to add something to the built environment that will be a positive landmark for decades to come.

Hell, they’re even offering to renovate two nearby historic building as part of the development.

There are two potential hold-ups. One, that in order to have enough space for all that ugliness to be buried underground, they would have to tear down one or two buildings on the 1900 block of Sansom that have been designated historic.

And two, the C5 Zoning upgrade from C4, which would allow the condo tower to rise another 10 stories or 120 feet.

Regarding the first issue, a development in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan (above) illustrates how a developer adapted his plans to accommodate a building that could not be razed.

However, whether or not a solution surfaces that is able to successfully incorporate all of the historic structures on Sansom Street into the Castleway development, their prospective preservation does not warrant the blocking of the Castleway project.

While the preservation of those three buildings was certainly enough reason to oppose the horrifically terrible PPA parking garage project for the site, the Castleway project’s many virtues more than compensate for the loss of these two unremarkable buildings.

Similarly, the added economic development that will come with the C5 upgrade — 10 extra stories of additional condos, filled with new Philadelphia residents, bringing their new disposable incomes to spend in our fine city, and the accompanying new tax base — far outweighs any potential negative impact of a 525’ tower as opposed to a 400’ tower.

Mostly, because a taller tower doesn’t have any negative impact.

Even at this preliminary stage, it’s clearly evident that the development will be well designed. And will finally give Rittenhouse Square a taste of some quality modern architecture.

And more important, however, is the fact that the project is incredibly urban-friendly, perfectly befitting of its premier location on Rittenhouse Square, a landmark which Inga Saffron appropriately asserts is “the closest thing Philadelphia has to a town green, and what goes up on [its perimeter] will have the eyes of the whole city on it.”

A location so important should be scrutinized. But its height is not at all a problem.

And as usual, Ms. Saffron is spot on:
Castleway has promised that its hotel will stand the same height as the adjacent Rittenhouse Plaza, 220 feet, to create a pleasing, uniform backdrop for the square.

Given Castleway's urban-friendly gestures, it seems a shame to get hung up on the height of the condo tower, which would be set back nearly a full block from the square.
Instead, she thinks we should focus our efforts on perfecting the building’s ground-level relationship with the city and its environs — the part of the building that will daily have face-to-face interactions with hundreds of city residents and visitors. Ms. Saffron specifically questions the wisdom of two things: orienting retail towards Sansom Street instead of 20th Street and a one-way entrance driveway for hotel guests off Walnut Street.

These are appropriate questions because how a high-rise building like this deals with its environs on the ground-level is infinitely more important than deciding whether it should be 400 or 500 feet tall.

Philadelphia, especially Center City, is a pedestrian-oriented town. The more concessions it makes to automobiles with new developments, the worse off it will be. Across the country, downtowns are being revived by renewed efforts to prioritize pedestrian activity and quality public spaces. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s antiquated zoning code still insists upon reactionary building practices that fly in the face of many best practices of urban design and threaten to ruin the very thing that makes Philadelphia so special.

Take the Murano at 21st and Market for example — a fairly well designed condo building on the surface… until you look around back, that is, and see the seven-story, free-standing, above-ground parking garage that was built to complement the tower. It's presence was basically dictated by Philadelphia’s zoning law, which still requires every condo project to include a parking space for each and every unit. The garage basically took a decent size chunk of prime real estate some 75 feet from Market Street and made it utterly and completely useless.
Once a tool of government, parking requirements are increasingly driven by the market.

Last year, for example, Seattle reduced parking requirements for multifamily housing in three of the city’s major commercial corridors. Next month, the City Council will vote on a proposal to eliminate minimum parking requirements in Seattle’s six core urban districts and near light-rail stations. In June, San Francisco replaced minimum requirements downtown with maximum standards allowing no more than 0.75 parking spaces per unit. In Portland, where central city parking minimums were eliminated six years ago, developers are breaking ground on projects with restricted parking.
A free-standing, above ground parking garage like the Murano’s (below) is the biggest waste of urban real estate since the idea of surrounding ball parks with seas of asphalt parking lots.

The god-awful parking garage at the MuranoGarages like the one above add nothing to the urban environment and make sure nothing else positive can be built on the same space.

Which is just further cause for the newly appointed Zoning Code Commission to get their asses in gear and fix the city’s Zoning Code as quickly as humanly possible.

But as far as the Castleway project is concerned… proceed good sirs.
It would be nice to see more details of Fiske's design. But even in its fuzzy beginnings, it shows signs of being an important building that will make Philadelphia proud. The challenge now is to solve the down-to-earth urban concerns, while still allowing room for the architecture to soar.
I.e. the architecture looks incredibly promising — all we need to do now is help with some minor tweaks to its ground level design and Rittenhouse will finally have a new star.

And deservedly so.

They Didn’t Use a Shoehorn [ New York Times ]
Some Devils in Skyscraper’s Details [ Philadelphia Inquirer ]
Development News or Demolition Blues [ Plan Philly ]
New Plans for 19th and Walnut Garner Community Support [Weekly Press ]
No Parking: Condos Leave out Cars [ New York Times ]

[ Murano photo via Philly Skyline ]

the three sanson street buildings on the 1900 block designated as historic, inlcuding the rittenhouse coffee shop

Monday, February 18, 2008

Eating the Illadelph: Exercises in why neighbors slash NIMBYS suck, part six billion, eighty thousand, four hundred and seventy three

Sandy's Lunch in PhiladelphiaOK, we can’t really say we were very surprised to hear this but we’re still disappointed by it. Word comes today that the restaurant project that David Katz (formerly of Restaurant M at the Morris House Hotel) and Andrew Krouk we’re attempting to bring to the Fitler Square / Schuylkill River Park neighborhood has met an untimely end.

The culprit? Neighbors' objections to the addition of a liquor license to the premises.
[Katz] tells me that Krouk -- who also owns the bricks of the popular nearby BYOB Melograno -- had won his initial hearing to transfer a liquor license into the space. Additional neighborhood objections popped up, Katz says. Rather than fight, they'll go back to the drawing board and will not take over the property. Meanwhile, Sandy's Lunch remains.
Obviously, we find this pretty ridiculous. The location for starters. They weren’t trying to open a bar to attract the partying crowds from Rittenhouse or Old City. Rather, they were trying to open restaurant that simply could serve alcohol to its diners. It’s not like the corner of 24th and Locust is going to be overrun with activity or become a nightlife hub because one restaurant — not a bar, mind you, a restaurant — opens. On the contrary, surrounding property values would actually increase because of the addition of a quality restaurant. (Sorry, but Sandy’s (above) just aint cuttin’ it. It's tired and borderline gross.) The neighborhood would be better off.

We can’t help but feel that there are a few residents in this relatively quiet pocket of the city that want to keep it quiet and hidden forever. Hate to rain on their parade, but with the expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail to South Street and beyond, and with a new and (hopefully) improved South Street Bridge, and, eventually, with the arrival of Penn’s pedestrian bridge, more and more of Center City residents are going to be heading west and entering this neighborhood to access the wonderful park space there.

And to connect with their river and their waterfront.

Hope these "neighbors" don’t plan on complaining about that too.

Fucking Douchebags.

Katz’ Project Canceled [Food and Drinq]
Official Preemptive Illadelph Crush: Penn's Weave Bridge by Cecil Balmond

[ Photo via Flickr user Podolux ]

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Eating the Illadelph: Could an actual beer garden be coming to Philadelphia??

potential beer garden at 15th and Carpenter in PhiladelphiaWe were very excited to recently hear about a dude (or a bunch of dudes) bringing an authentic beer garden to Philadelphia. Mentioned on Foobooz and Food and Drinq thus far, the project right now is nothing more than allegations. Nevertheless, they provide reason enough to be optimistic.

We’re chiming in on this because it is an issue in which we have long been interested… Why aren’t there more opportunities to drink outside in Philadelphia?

the retractable roof at radegast beer garden in brooklynWe’ve talked about this before. And in time since, we may have missed an opportunity to do an amazing beer garden project in Bella Vista, but at least we recently found a potential replacement in another nabe that promises to be even better.

So it’s good to hear that someone wants to bring a German-style beer hall or garden to the city and have it open in time for the fall. They're currently looking for a location.

We hope that they pick a good one. (Like the Roman-forum styled former warehouse at 15th and Carpenter currently for sale (above).)

And that they incorporate best practices. (Like retractable roofs [right].)

Because Philadelphia has some damn fine weather much of the year. Might as well enable people to enjoy both it AND a large frosty pint of beer at the same time.

the patio at Alison at Blue Bell that would become a beer garden- Meanwhile, Alison Barshak and her crew were going to turn the outdoor patio and dining area at Alison at Blue Bell (above) into a beer garden for the upcoming Philadelphia Beer Week. But for reasons unknown, it has been postponed until spring and is not going to happen for Beer Week. For shame, Alison. For Shame.

- Last we heard, Mark Bee still wants to add a beer garden to the side parking lot at Silk City this spring. That would be good.

- Even the marketing folk at the Kixx realize the allure of a beer garden. They’ve got a new one. Too bad it, like the “beer garden” at Reading Terminal, is indoors.

* Note: while we are definitely proponents of the beer garden concept, we are not picky about how it manifests itself, i.e. we don’t care if it’s an authentic German beer hall with seven different kinds of wurst on its menu or an American mashup. We just really want there to be more places to go where you can drink a beer outside in the afternoon. It’s a quality that is simply inappropriately absent in Philadelphia.