We were grabbing a coffee in Old City the other day, and something unexpected caught our eye on the 200 block of Market Street. It was a beer garden! 240 Market St. has been sitting vacant since the auction house that previously stood there burned down in 1987. According to a City Paper (pour one out) story from 2013, the property is owned by Victor Gordon, who also owns a shop on 3rd Street that sells various African statues and other carvings. Gordon has had some kind of a beef with the City over the years, and the article claims that he left his Market Street lot vacant and overgrown more or less out of spite for the City. Not for nothing, it looked pretty awful.
In the summer of 2015, Old City District came to an agreement with Gordon to license the lot and clean it up. OCD hired a landscaping company to level the parcel, plant some grass, and build a fence, with Gordon only insisting that the refreshed lot be kept off limits to the public. The agreement also stipulated that Gordon could back out of the agreement if he found someone else to rent the lot. And that’s exactly what happened last summer, when the owner of Sto’s Bar a few doors to the east connected with Gordon with a plan to turn the lot into the Old City Beer Garden. The garden operated for a few months last summer (to our surprise) and is in a soft opening phase for this summer. This beer garden includes cornhole, beer pong with garbage cans, some food options, and of course, booze. Look for the beer garden to be fully operational after Memorial Day.
A beer garden is certainly an upgrade over a greened but private vacant lot, as a greened vacant lot is an upgrade over the blight that was here for so many years. Still, we would contend that a beer garden is nowhere near the highest and best use for this property, which should be redeveloped into a mixed-use building. Not only does this property cry out for redevelopment, but the one-story 7-11 next door is a major underuse as well. A combination of the two properties could result in a fantastic new project for Old City.
Sadly, we don’t think this is in the cards. Gordon, who is currently serving a prison term for ivory smuggling, hasn’t previously shown any interest in selling this lot for a reasonable price, and we don’t imagine that will change any time soon. We don’t know anything about the owners of the 7-11, but we don’t suspect they’d be looking to rock the boat, as they have a credit tenant on a long term lease. Alas. Then again, this corner is slowly trending in the right direction, so perhaps in the years to come we will finally see this property start to fulfill its potential. In the meantime though, guess we’ll have to drink some beers outside.