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Kimmel Center to liven up its street look

In what is aimed as a significant boost to street presence, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is making its first major exterior changes since opening in 2001.

A rendering of the Kimmel Center with video screens on its facade.
A rendering of the Kimmel Center with video screens on its facade.Read more

In what is aimed as a significant boost to street presence, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts is making its first major exterior changes since opening in 2001.

The Kimmel won approval Wednesday from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to erect an animated video cube at the northeast corner of the building, at Broad and Spruce Streets. The object, whose two screens and audio will run documentary and promotional material, is a project of the Kimmel's Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts this spring, but will remain operational after the month-long event ends in May.

Another changing element the Kimmel hopes will redress its often moribund atmosphere: Wolfgang Puck.

The celebrated Austrian-born chef, restaurateur, caterer and businessman will bring his imprimatur to the Kimmel, taking over catering operations - an important piece of the Kimmel's revenue-generating plan - as well as the restaurant.

The Kimmel's current restaurant, Cadence, closed in June. Puck will develop a new restaurant, which will take over the Spruce Street-side space currently occupied by the gift shop. The new restaurant would open a year from now, in the fall of 2011, but catering functions will begin this fall in the former Cadence space and some Puck cuisine will be available at the plaza cafe.

Puck's presence comes through an existing partnership with Restaurant Associates, the Kimmel's current food-service vendor, which continues its relationship with with the Kimmel and be a tenant in the Kimmel's basement kitchen.

Both the new video cube (which is a larger, three-dimensional realization of the festival's logo) and the opening of a ground-floor restaurant are philosophically consistent with the Kimmel's drive to enliven its public spaces. Various architects and urban planners, as well as a 2008 public charrette run by PennPraxis (a Penn-related nonprofit planning authority), have cited the Kimmel's lack of vibrancy, particularly at hours when no performances are taking place.

"The outside of the building must let the public see, hear and feel what is happening inside the building," concluded one of the PennPraxis proposals. "The outside, now seen as foreboding, dull and confusing, should broadcast a sense of excitement and activity onto the street."

The new video cube, although not specifically called for during the 2008 brainstorming session, is a response to "bringing the outside in, and the inside out," said Kimmel president Anne Ewers Wednesday.

"It completely connects with the vision of the masterplan," said Ewers. "The restaurant moving to the space in the gift shop is what's in the masterplan, the need for a greater sense of what's going on inside the building at Broad and Spruce ties directly to the cube design. It's wanting for people to be more aware, to be more welcome, to be more drawn into the building."

In addition to promoting Kimmel Center Presents events and those of the resident companies, the cube could be used to electronically convey live events going on within the Kimmel, such as Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, lawyer Matthew N. McClure of Ballard Spahr told zoning board members.

The budget for the cube, whose fabricators have not yet been chosen, is expected to run between $200,000 and $400,000, depending on whether the Kimmel can land in-kind services in lieu of some expenses. It is expected to be operational by December or January, said PIFA executive director J. Edward Cambron.

The 7.5 x 7.5 x 7.5-foot cube, with two screens, will also emit audio, which, in accordance with a proviso part of the Zoning Board of Adjustment's approval, will not seep more than 15 feet from the source.

Ewers said that the new restaurant, as yet unnamed, will be open for lunch and dinner, and open all the time, unlike Cadence, which was open only around Verizon Hall performance days and times. The kitchen will continue to be in the basement, and the route for getting food from the kitchen to the new restaurant has not been worked out, Ewers said.

The gift shop will remain open through the holidays. After that, a scaled-down gift shop kiosk would be placed in the plaza.

The Kimmel hopes that the addition of the Puck name, along with planned enclosure of the Kimmel's rooftop garden to make it more rentable - and, hence, profitable.

"We certainly think it's a terrific name in the industry - he's a world-renowned chef," said Ewers of Puck. "This would be his first location in Philadelphia, and we think it will have wonderful appeal to folks interested in renting the Kimmel Center."