One of the more prominent retail sites vacated due to the Federated/May merger has been snatched up by PREIT (The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust). According to GlobeSt.com, the developer has signed a purchase agreement for floors one through six of the former Strawbridge’s anchor store at Eighth and Market Streets in center city Philadelphia.
The historic Strawbridge’s store, which opened in 1931, is attached to the aging, 1,100,000 square foot Gallery at Market East shopping mall. The center–which, somewhat surprisingly, I haven’t been able to visit due to some bouts of bad luck–has reportedly under-performed for some time and failed to serve as the center of the city’s downtown retail district, which is what it was designed to be. In addition to the departed Strawbridge’s, JCPenney and Gimbel’s long ago vacated and now the mall counts Kmart, Pay/Half, and Burlington Coat Factory amongst it’s relatively indistinguished roster of tenants. The top floor of the four-level mall is mostly vacant.
One design feature that stands out about the Gallery at Market East is that much of the mall is sliced in half by the Kmart store, so on certain levels it’s necessary to walk through the Kmart itself to proceed straight through the length of the mall. The mall also has one level below street level, continuing the full length of the mall, while the third level of the mall also continues straight through the mall, leaving the street level sandwiched inbetween. The street level is severed at each cross street, so to access its stores its necessary to come from above or below. Essentially, depending on the floor of the mall, the structure flies over, tunnels under, or dead-ends completely at the crossing blocks. If I’ve confused you, check out PREIT’s detailed leasing plan (which is a PDF). I haven’t seen the Gallery, but am dying to.
Hopefully I’ll make it down in time to see the Gallery, because it seems that PREIT’s motivation for buying the Strawbridge’s store is to prepare for a much needed reset at the entire Gallery at Market East Shopping Mall. Joseph Coradino, president of PREIT Services, tells GlobeSt.com that the Gallery at Market East is “Defensive. It defends itself by turning its back on the street. We want to open it to the street, with cafes and retail that will capture the customers in that area.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to become outdoor (the multi-level nature of the mall probably means that wouldn’t make much sense at all) but it does seem to indicate a drastic and overdue repositioning of the mall is in place. If done correctly, it could give Philadelphia the kind of downtown retail destination that helped kick start urban revitalization efforts in Boston or Providence. Work is expected to begin in either 2007 or 2008.