The Market East neighborhood was a hub of commerce in Philadelphia from the late 1800s through the middle of the 20th century, with the Strawbridge & Clothier, Lit Bros., and Gimbels department stores at 8th & Market in the center of it all. By the later part of the 20th century, the department stores were either closed or heading in that direction, the Gallery was an inward looking fortress of a mall, and Market East was a shell of its former self. The Lit Brothers and Strawbridges buildings were preserved and reused, while the Gimbels building was unfortunately torn down in 1980 and turned into a surface parking lot. It’s currently owned by the Goldenberg Group (who seem to be coming up regularly on this blog, of late).

Gimbels Old
Gimbels department store, demoed almost 40 years ago

You’re probably well aware of this, but it’s still a surface parking lot today.

Current view on the 800 block of Market

The property has seen various redevelopment proposals over the years. In the late 1990s, Disney attempted to launch a chain of indoor amusement parks called Disney Quest, and selected the 8th & Market site for their 2nd location after Chicago. They even 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.

Just a few years ago, Goldenberg Group proposed Market8 at this location, in an effort to win the city’s 2nd casino license. At the time, we thought it was an interesting idea given the central location and easy access to public transportation, but worried that it had high disaster potential if not executed perfectly. Those concerns became moot when the state selected Live! Philadelphia in South Philly as the winner. And so 8th & Market has continued to serve as a surface parking lot.

Gallery under construction across the street

One would think though, that after all these years it could finally get redeveloped sometime (relatively) soon. Across the street, the Gallery is in the middle of a major $100M+ renovation effort that will open it up to the street and transform it into the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia. Just a couple blocks to the west, the East Market project is adding several new businesses and hundreds of new apartments to the neighborhood, at the location of the old Snellenburg’s department store. After so many years of wandering in the wilderness, Market East is finally on the upswing.

So it seems a little curious then, that the Goldenberg Group recently applied for (and recieved) a zoning variance to maintain 8th & Market as a surface parking lot. According to the Philadelphia Business Journal (behind the pay wall), Goldenberg is attempting to put together a project for this site, and has been in conversations with large companies about an office tower, international hotel brands about a potential hotel, and significant retail and entertainment anchor tenants as well. Goldenberg intends to have a development plan in place within the next three years, which is a good thing because there’s a proviso for their zoning permit that has it set to expire on New Years Day, 2021. Here’s to hoping that by then Goldenberg Group has figured out what to do with this two-acre site. It’s one of the largest undeveloped properties in the downtown area, and it’s past the time for something to happen there. Are we crazy to think that another mixed-use project, a la East Market, might make the most sense for this location?