The developers who hope to transform the now-largely empty Gallery at Market East into a destination retail center made their pitch to City Council on Thursday for legislation needed to get the project going, but were waylaid by two other concerns: a living wage and making the previous occupants whole.
The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, in partnership with California-based Macerich Co., has in mind a two-year, $575 million effort that would not only remake the aging mall, but enliven a dormant section of Market Street and transform the blocks between Eighth and 11th Streets from Market to Filbert Street.
"The Gallery is the largest remaining piece of East Market Street's ultimate revitalization," Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor of planning and economic development, told Council. "This transaction represents a unique opportunity to reinvent the entire Gallery complex."
PREIT CEO Joseph Coradino agreed, adding that the new Gallery will play an important role in promoting the city, and that the project "provides the opportunity to reinvigorate the mall by creating a retail experience that is unique to the region."
To that end, the developers want Council to adopt six ordinances and one resolution that deal with a variety of issues involving a tax break over 20 years, transfers of land from public ownership to private hands, rights of way, easements, and other matters.
But after a 30-minute pitch by PREIT and Greenberger, followed by a short presentation by Sharmain Matlock-Turner of the Urban Affairs Coalition on the developer's goals for women and minority involvement in the project, Council quickly focused on "living wages" - an hourly rate that exceeds the state and federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. challenged Coradino's assertion that the project would transform Philadelphia: "Are you trying to do that through poverty-wage jobs?"
From there, Goode, with the support of others, turned his attention to the Gallery vendors and kiosk owners who were forced to leave to make way for the project.
PREIT responded with assurances that the vendors could resume their positions in the new mall.
Several vendors expressed sentiments similar to Goode's, complaining that the Gallery is still open despite their eviction a few months ago.
"The Gallery's open, but we're not there," said Irma Lopez Salter, who ran a photo kiosk.
Other vendors said that the relocation has caused them to fall behind financially.
"It's been hard for me, the past six months, not working in the Gallery," said Rodney King, who had a bookstore kiosk.
Council did not take any action, saying Goode's concerns and the six ordinances and one resolution will be discussed by both parties privately in the coming days.
"We anticipate over the next several days, we'll be in a position to tie those loose ends up and draft the appropriate amendments, and have those amendments adopted next Wednesday," Council President Darrell L. Clarke said.
The developers were also confident that the issues will be resolved. "I remain optimistic," Coradino said. "Wouldn't it be a shame if we left here at the end of this process and ended up with a hole in Philadelphia?"