Who Needs a Quarterback When You’ve Got Skyscrapers?

Everybody is sooo bummed out about the Superbowl. Find me a Philadelphian who isn’t down in the dumps about the Eagles’ loss and I’ll find you a Superbowl ad that devotes more than 2 seconds to a brand message.

Even at my office, which is populated by egghead editors and sports-phobic women, people are hanging their heads in shame and disappointment. To help brighten the mood, I’ve been changing the topic of conversation to Philadelphia architecture, that ol’ watercooler standby. We may not have much of a rushing game here in Philadelphia, but we still gots a mad building boom going on. With all the glass-and-steel phalic skyscrapers that have been popping up lately, it’s almost possible to foget how the city was castrated of its championship hopes yesterday.

The new building that everyone’s talking about is the Comcast Tower at 17th and JFK Boulevard, which they just broke ground on a couple weeks ago. Once completed, it’ll be the largest building in the city — 57 stories tall, 975 feet. My beloved Inga Saffron already dissed the tower in her Jan. 9th column, but I’m not going along with her on this one.
Sure, Comcast ain’t building another Crysler building, and sure it’s a little boxy and uninspired as far as skyscrapers go. But the powers that be are finally doing something with this skyscraper that they didn’t do with its predecessors; namely, they’re planning at the street-level, not just in the clouds. The planners have hired Laurie Olin, a renound landscape architect (and Penn Press author), to design the grassy plaza on the groud level; they’re building a huge, glassed-in “winter garden,” sort of like the WTC used to have; and a giant indoor/outdoor food court, connected to Surburban Station, is in the works. The hope is that all of this will finally convert that stretch Market and JFK into something other than an apocalyptic, barren wasteland. Maybe if people are actually milling about and enjoying the street life places like Trader Joe’s will finally place their entrances on the street, rather than facing parking lots. And take a look at the architect’s rendering of the new city skyline. Personally, I think it looks pretty damn cool. (Not as cool as it would have from a Phillies ballpark on the Schuylkill, mind you, but we won’t go there right now.)

On the topic of glass-enclosed monoliths, the Cira Centre project seems to be moving along nicely. The building is scheduled for an April 2005 completion, and it looks like they’ve almost finished the exterior. As anyone who has come through 30th Street Station recently knows, the Cira Centre (why the “re” I wonder?) is right next to the train station, due north on JFK. I’m not exactly sure how much of an economic impact the Cira building will have on Philly, considering that it’s basically just poaching a couple law firms that used to be in Center City. Surely it won’t be as significant as the Comcast Tower, but West Philly can use all the help it can get.

The thing that has my officemates really perplexed are the new condos scheduled to be built at 4200 Pine Street. 4200 Pine.jpgNow, I know we’re not talking about another skyscraper here, but we have an obvious reason for concern: Our office is at 4200 Pine Street. We’ve known for a while that we were going to be booted from here, and moved to the boarded-up hovel that is the former WXPN building, but now that the condo plans have been revealed we’re even more steamed than ever. Take a look at the luxuy condo price list: $270,000 for one-bedroom units, $350,000 for two-bedroom units, and the upper $400,000 range for the three-bedroom, three-bath units. Who on earth would pay that much to live in a neighborhood where the average 4-bedroom family home is about $250,000? These are condos we’re talking about! Jeez. I can’t wait to see how they justify this on their new website (4200pine.com). Just thinking about it makes me feel amost as frustrated as during the last three minutes of the Eagles-Pats game. Oh well, so much for distracting everyone with good news. Time to go mope some more.

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