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PHILADELPHIA-Ongoing efforts to invigorate the Center City retail sector focused primarily on Market Street East during yesterday’s forum hosted by the Central Philadelphia Development Corp.

CPDC president Paul Levy provided a list of 10 concepts during the “Upgrading the Retail Mix” forum, focusing primarily on redevelopment for the stretch of Market Street spanning from City Hall to Independence Mall. Among the concepts are a more transparent connection with Chinatown, aesthetic and street-oriented improvements of the Gallery shopping center, matching grants for façade improvements at existing ground-floor retail and conversion of several sites into mixed-use residential, restaurant, hotel and retail facilities.

“The concepts have not been fully studied for feasibility nor priced yet,” Levy said. Their purpose is to “establish priorities for the next phase of analysis.”

As the owner of the Gallery and recently acquired Strawbridge’s, locally based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust controls a large swath of the Market Street East retail submarket. Panelist Joseph Coradino, PREIT’s EVP, said redevelopment of the Gallery and expansion of it into the Strawbridge building is on the immediate agenda. “We have retained an architect and are in the early stages of redoing the Gallery.” It will remove the “cave-way entrances,” he said, “and be open to the street.” As for Strawbridge’s, he said “we are already over-subscribed for tenants. We see the Gallery as a turnaround opportunity for Market Street East.” And, he predicted the turnaround would be seen “two years from now.”

Of overall Philadelphia retail, Coradino said “we need to create a shopping experience. Philadelphia was in a war for retail domination, and the suburbs won. Philadelphia has momentum now, but we have miles to go before we sleep when it comes to retail.”

Keynoter Jan Heppe, vice president and director of stores for Burberry USA, said there’s a perception “that the money is in the suburbs. It’s not true. Suburban people with money work in Philadelphia.” She added that while the Burberry unit in King of Prussia Mall is “very successful, it doesn’t touch the volume of our Philadelphia store,” which is along Walnut Street. She likened retailers to “lemmings,” adding “you need one risk-taker and others will follow.” She cited Atlantic City retail as an example of the “lemming theory.”

According to a July 2006 Center City District retail survey, the occupancy for Center City retail is 89%. This year’s CCD report includes an expanded geographic area roughly from east of Sixth Street to Front Street. The total number of retail spaces in the traditional survey area, which runs from 21st to Sixth Street, increased from 2,468 retail premises a year ago to a current 2,498. The expanded area added 425 retail premises to the Center City total.

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