A 620-square-foot, walk-up coffee kiosk is coming to the south side of the 120,000-square-foot Dilworth Park. Wrapped with green walls and roof, it will add back more landscaping than we removed at this end for construction, restoring chairs and tables.
Locally owned Brûlée Catering will operate the cafe, expanding its services from the north to southern end and signing a license agreement to sell Starbucks’ products and carry its name.
In recent days, social media has been abuzz, asking why CCD would do this and what is the public benefit?
» READ MORE: Dilworth Park doesn’t need a Starbucks | Opinion
Why? To buffer the southern end from noisy traffic on South Penn Square; to respond to 10.8 million visitors who came in 2018, a 24 percent increase since 2015, measured by our on-site pedestrian counters; and finally, to raise more income to support operations of a busier park.
What’s the public benefit? Once a forlorn hardscape, Dilworth Park now features fountains, lawns, and many places to sit. It is open to the public 365 days a year. On half of those days in 2018, we offered free musical performances, free movies, free exercise classes, a neighborhood arts celebration, a fine arts and craft fair, a children’s holiday promotion with SEPTA, holiday markets, free holiday light show and a free skating promotion for the month of February. All programs and services create jobs for dozens of Philadelphians, funded outside the city’s budget.
The concept of making money in a public park might sound odd at first, but when CCD took on design in 2012, raised $55 million to build the park, and oversaw construction, we transformed it from an unsafe, derelict space into the thriving public place we now manage. We also relieved the city of cleaning, 24-hour security, landscaping, fountain and lighting maintenance, repairs, insurance, and programming. This enabled local government to transfer scarce resources to neighborhood parks.
Through the lease from the city, CCD supports operating costs from revenue raised within the park. Revenues come from the existing café, from sponsored programs and events, such as movies, concerts, the holiday light show, and Wintergarden. Revenues also come from the ice rink, food in the heated tent and advertising in the concourse. All revenue goes to support park operations. Last year, those revenues covered 62 percent of costs with the balance coming from assessments that the CCD, a business improvement district, places on all properties in our district.
Our goal has always been to make the park more self-sufficient. Rather than balancing the budget by reduced cleaning, landscaping maintenance, or programming, we are adding a new amenity that everyone is free to patronize or ignore.
Some who question the new coffee kiosk also challenge the idea that rental events sometimes take place in the park. In 2018, Dilworth hosted 79 rental events, of which 82 percent were open to the public. Only during 3.5 percent of total park operating hours was any portion closed to the public. Access to transit and City Hall was always maintained. Every event was coordinated with the city.
Adding the coffee kiosk is part of a larger strategy to create a quality public space without stressing the city budget. Philadelphia families, day cares, and camp programs, many of them arriving by subway, have turned Dilworth’s fountain into a summer play space. In the winter, our holiday markets and light show are incredibly popular attractions. Throughout the year, others enjoy movies, concerts, and exercise classes, or play bocce on the lawn. These Philadelphians and visitors count on CCD to maintain the park as a clean, safe, and enjoyable place to visit year-round. It’s a responsibility we take seriously, working hard to generate the funds that enable us to fulfill the public’s expectation.
Paul R. Levy is president of Center City District. For more information about Dilworth Park and the CCD, visit https://centercityphila.org/parks/dilworth-park.