Parking Lot on the Outs at 8th & Market?

In case you’re unaware, the southwest corner of 8th & Market is a surface parking lot. Has been for decades, actually. Historically, this was the address of the Gimbels department store, which started operating on this block in the late 1800s, and by 1927 occupied a collection of handsome buildings that sold all manner of goods, with a focus on middle class customers. Needless to say, they don’t build buildings like this anymore.

Maybe 40 years ago

In 1977, Gimbels moved out of their old building and into the newly constructed Gallery Mall, across the street. Within a few years, their old building was demolished and the property became a surface parking lot. This was quite a fall from grace for this address, which was so important to the commercial fabric of the city for a long time and so prominently located. But it wasn’t such an outrageous state of affairs in Philadelphia in the early 1980s, as the city was still deep in the throes of economic struggles which would persist until a building boom began in the late 1980s and remade the skyline. During that period, it looked like Corestates Bank would build a tower here, but those plans fell through by 1991.

By the late 1990s, there was a great hope that this property would be redeveloped, as Disney attempted to launch a chain of indoor amusement parks called Disney Quest, and selected this site for their 2nd location after Chicago. They started site work, digging a large hole at the property. But their Chicago location flopped, they cancelled the Philadelphia location, and we were left with a hole in the ground at 8th & Market for a few years, commonly referred to as the Disney Hole. Eventually, when it was clear that the property wouldn’t be developed for awhile, the owners filled the hole and resumed using it as a surface parking lot.

Yet another flirtation with redevelopment occurred a few years back, as it was floated as a possible location for Philadelphia’s second casino, but that fell by the wayside as Live! Philadelphia in South Philly emerged with the coveted second license. And so, the property has remained a surface lot, receiving a zoning variance back in 2017 to continue as such, on a temporary basis.

Parking lot
Overhead view

That temporary zoning approval is coming up at the end of 2020, and as a result this property is now poised to rise from its four-decade slumber. Plans are still coming together, but the initial concept calls for two buildings at this site, echoing the East Market project down the block. Each tower will rise approximately twenty-five stories and include two stories of retail, 350-400 rental units, and a couple floors of underground parking. Needless to say, this project will result in a higher and better use than at present, though anything other than another hole would be a step in the right direction for this particular property.

East Market development on the 1100 block of Market

This project would have been no less exciting, but perhaps much more risky, if it had come down the pike even five years ago. Market East is currently having a moment, with the reopening of the Gallery as Fashion District Philadelphia and the aforementioned East Market project transforming an entire city block of incredibly prime real estate. Given the ongoing success just a couple blocks to the west, a project like this at 8th & Market makes all the sense in the world.

Had we learned about this even two months ago, we would have felt incredibly confident that the project would be moving forward, and one of the last and best development sites in Philadelphia would finally be activated after decades of dormancy. Given the uncertainty in the world right now around COVID-19, we can certainly see a scenario in which these plans are delayed indefinitely or fall through entirely. That would be a sad outcome indeed- we just don’t want to see this site celebrate its golden anniversary as a surface parking lot in 2030.

Edit: Check the date on this story. None of it is true, we’re very sorry to say.

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