The promise of a high-end movie theater at 11th and Market Streets deserves a round of applause. It's a sign that the awakening of East Market Street is well on its way. But the journey, and its annoyances, isn't over yet.
East Market, long a dead zone between City Hall and Independence Park, has frustrated city planners for decades. The area is a matrix where aggressive panhandlers accost patrons from discount stores and the now largely closed Gallery, an old fortress of a building built with its back to Market Street, which is being retooled into the Fashion District.
Philadelphia and the state poured millions of taxpayer dollars into building the Gallery and the Convention Center. The hospitality sector built shining hotels. Though a good start, it wasn't enough. East Market remained exhausted and even forbidding in appearance.
The government doubled down, smartly taking advantage of market forces and offering up generous tax breaks, which seems to be working.
Since the recession, developers have been transforming the area into a real neighborhood, with hundreds of apartments pitched to millennials and empty nesters who see the value of living downtown. Residents and office workers have helped to create a market for a Mom's Organic Market, a Wawa, and even a little Target. And there's more on the way.
Roughly 1,400 new housing units were completed last year or are under construction. The area is filling out with the Thomas R. Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy, part of Drexel University's law school. More retail shopping is coming to the renewed Gallery and the south side of Market Street, and fine restaurants popping up on nearby streets.
The planned movie theater is another indication that the growing population can support such amenities, and will be a welcome addition to cinema-deprived Center City. Philadelphia just hasn't felt right since the SamEric, at 19th and Chestnut Streets, lowered its curtain in 2002. But movie theater companies, like millennials and empty nesters, are rediscovering urban centers.
AMC promises eight screens on the site of the old Burlington store at 11th and Market. The theater, expected to open in 2018, should find a ready audience of Center City workers, residents, and commuters seeking that perfect combination of first-run escapism, snack food, and beverages.
It's hard to see this emerging neighborhood's future through the confusing lens of dirty and noisy construction sites. (Philadelphia Media Network has offices at 801 Market Street.) The work has strained the patience of even the most cheerful boosters.
Pedestrians have been forced to navigate closed sidewalks and the narrow walkways bound by Jersey barriers and chain-link fences. Bus stops have been relocated. SEPTA rail commuters rightly complain that they lost their climate-controlled, sheltered walk from Jefferson Station through the old Gallery. There are also occasional tremors resulting from demolition in office buildings.