The best twenty bucks we spend every year is on our residential parking permit. Annually, we’ve religiously trekked to the Philadelphia Parking Authority offices at 30th & Market to renew our permit, fulfilling the annual program of forgetting to send the renewal back in the mail in a timely fashion. This year, as the clock struck June, we once again found ourselves needing to visit the PPA, in an effort to avoid the dreaded ticket for overtime parking with an expired residential permit.

So off we went to those familiar PPA offices, license, registration, utility bill, and checkbook in hand, eager to get this thing over with for another year. Imagine our surprise when the person at the building’s front desk told us that the PPA had moved out two weeks earlier, to a new customer service office on the other side of town! And then we remembered a post from last month, when we told you that a retail space underneath a dank garage on 8th Street between Arch and Filbert, was getting renovated. And we remembered that a couple of commenters suggested that the PPA customer service office would be moving there. And then we realized that we weren’t going to make it across town before the office closed. And then we were sad.

Last month

Now open

After avoiding a ticket for another couple of days, we finally made our way to the new PPA customer service office, and were reminded of just how horribly this PPA garage has held up over the years (not to say it was nice when it opened). But according to Inga Saffron, it seems that better times are ahead for this truly wretched structure which replaced dozens of handsome buildings when it was built back in the 1960s. In an article in the Inquirer last week, Saffron tells of plans from the PPA to dramatically improve this building, which currently “resembles a prison entrance.” They’ve hired a team of O’Donnell & Naccarato and Wallace Roberts & Todd to create a series of improvements to both augment the building’s facade and make the 8th Street underpass less terrifying for pedestrians.

Concepts like improved lighting, nicer materials, better retail tenants and a farmer’s market are some of the ideas being thrown around for the underpass. Whether these ideas and more will result in people willingly walking down here is certainly an open question, but we admire the effort being put into it nevertheless.

Rendering of the underpass from the Inquirer. Looks glamorous.

For the northern facade, look for “veils of metal mesh and glass” with screening made of glass louvers. In theory, this glass would reflect the sun during the day and the interior lighting of the garage at night. On the southern facade, plans call for a combination of metal mesh and greenery. Both additions would represent a tremendous upgrade over the building’s current appearance.

North side from a distance

North side in the future

South side now

South side in the future

It’s truly wonderful to see the proceeds from our parking tickets going toward improving this prominent structure, seen by countless tourists on a daily basis. And the better news is that this only represents a first step, with the PPA talking about plans to renovate several other downtown garages in the coming years. Hopefully, this movement will pick up some momentum, and other downtown garage owners will follow their lead, improving unattractive parking garages and improving the look of Center City for decades to come.