The shopping centers around 23rd & Oregon aren’t exactly an urbanist’s dream come true. To the south of Oregon Avenue is Quartermaster Plaza, a shopping center which opened in 2004 on land that was previously connected to the Quartermaster Depot of the US Army. Hence the name. It’s anchored by a BJ’s, a Home Depot, and a Staples, and has a total of almost half a million square feet of retail space. To the north is a slightly smaller shopping center, anchored by a Shop Rite and boasting a giant empty space that was last home, if memory serves, to a National Wholesale Liquidators and an auto shop. These shopping centers are suburban in style and create a dramatic break from the urban fabric to the north and east, though they do offer some transition to the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery to the west.
Yeah, it ain’t pretty. But these shopping centers still get considerable use.
Be that as it may, it appears that the owners of the shopping centers are working on a grander vision, so to speak. A story on Philly.com tipped us off that Cedar Realty Trust is seeking to rebrand the shopping district as South Quarter Crossing. Given that hardly anyone lives in this pocket, we don’t think that this effort will provoke the same enmity that we’ve seen caused by other neighborhood renaming efforts in the past.
The bulk of the effort looks to be a renewed push to market the vacant retail spaces in the shopping centers. Marketing materials on the Cedar Realty Trust website show numerous retail spaces available on both sides of Oregon Avenue, and we’d imagine that the exteriors will get some freshening up as part of the project. In addition, the Shop Rite will move from its current location to a larger space at 23rd & Shunk. The former Wholesale Liquidator space and the current Shop Rite space would be razed and/or renovated and converted into mixed use, with plans for office space and 210 apartments.
If they can pull this off, it will be an amazing step forward for this area and could successfully create a new destination neighborhood in South Philly. Of course, we can’t shake the feeling that this is simply another suburbanization project, but of the 2017 variety, as it feels similar to projects like the Garden State Park development in Cherry Hill, with apartments sitting in the middle of an auto-centric shopping center. Perhaps though, this is the best outcome we can hope for at this location, given its current condition. And if it succeeds, it could provide a model for improving other shopping centers around town. So let’s agree to root for the project to move forward, but accept that we might hate it when it’s finished. In this regard at least, it isn’t all that different from most of the projects we cover.