Classic Porn Theater To Office Building Story on the 2200 Block of Market

Let’s say you’re an important business person living in New York or Washington or Boston and you take Amtrak into Philadelphia for some kind of important business meeting. On a day like today, you’re arriving at 30th Street Station and hopping in a cab or an Uber to get right to your destination. But let’s pretend it’s a mild day in April and you’ve got a little time to kill before your meeting starts. Strolling down Market Street from 30th Street to whatever downtown office building you’re visiting sounds like an attractive option, right? We have to think, if this scenario played out, that you’d be a little surprised about the lack of stuff and the presence of several sizable parking lots west of 21st Street. And you’d be right to be surprised- it is indeed an odd situation that the blocks between our downtown business district and our main rail hub has been so underdeveloped for decades.

It’s not easy to explain this phenomenon, but we’ll try to distill it. These blocks are probably better suited for office buildings than just about any others in the city. However, it’s really expensive to build sizable buildings in Philadelphia. And office rents are, compared to other major cities, on the low end. This makes the math of office building development quite challenging, which is the reason that we’ve seen many residential towers but only seen a pair of Comcast office buildings appear downtown in the last twenty years. Meanwhile, offices keep springing up in the Navy Yard and in parts of West Philly, areas where tax breaks make the effort worthwhile.

But just today, Philly.com shared some tremendous news, that one of these large Market Street parking lots will soon be developed into a new office building! For a couple decades, the south side of the 2200 block of Market Street was best known as the location of the Forum, one of the few remaining cinemas in Center City. Unfortunately, this building only dated back to the 1970s and provided no architectural excitement whatsoever when compared with all the other movie theaters that have disappeared from the landscape over the years. And, uh, it was a porn theater.

This was here til 2012

The Forum was demoed back in 2012, and was quickly subsumed into the adjacent Parkway surface parking lot along with some other properties next door. This lot has been operated by Parkway since the mid-1990s, when the company demolished several other buildings on the block, ostensibly with an eye toward some kind of future development.

Current view

Well folks, it’s 2020 and the future has arrived. Per the Inquirer, Parkway is building a 19-story office building at this address which will house law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. This building, designed by Gensler, will cast a unique presence on the skyline and will transform the streetscape of this block, adding life and energy to a block that’s been a depressing sea of parking for longer than most of us can remember. Check out this rendering:

Project rendering from Philly.com

This building is expected to be completed in 2023, which doesn’t feel quite so far away since we’ve turned the calendar to January. Throw in the planned 23-story building on the 2100 block from Brandywine, and the walk from 30th Street Station should only continue to improve as this decade moves along. Of course, the large parking lot on the north side of the 2200 block seems like it’ll stick around for the foreseeable future, as it’s owned by Peco, but if projects can start moving on the south sides of these blocks, we certainly won’t rule out the possibility that something could happen there as well. Finally, we can imagine a possible world in which the walk from 30th Street Station into downtown actually makes sense, we’ll just have to wait a few more years to see this potential realized.

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