The street next to Reading Terminal Market is becoming a ‘festival’ area with expanded sidewalks and outdoor dining

The project isn’t quite as ambitious as originally planned — no retractable bollards, for example — but it should all be done by fall.

A rendering of what Filbert Street might look like this fall when the transformation is complete

A rendering of what Filbert Street might look like this fall when the transformation is complete

Courtesy Ground Reconsidered
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The $1 million project to turn the road next to Reading Terminal Market into a “festival street” finally kicked off Tuesday with a groundbreaking.

Announced in 2019, the project to revamp the one-block stretch of Filbert Street is expected to be completed later this fall, officials said. The broad idea is to expand the market’s footprint by thousands of square feet and improve pedestrian and vehicle safety at the intersection, said Annie Allman, the market’s general manager.

It’s “a space that will be available for the community, customers, visitors, and more to experience the magic of Philadelphia, and of course, the magic of the Reading Terminal Market,” Allman said.

Construction will create a “curbless multi-purpose street,” where the car lanes will be at the same height as the sidewalks for the whole block, according to project renderings, which show bollards separating the sidewalk areas from the pavement.

Additionally, a portion of the sidewalk in front of the market will be widened by eight feet to allow for additional dining and seating capacity when the weather is good. Part of the current parking lane on that side of the road will be removed to allow for that change.

The market plans to add high-top tables and “other dining-friendly seating options” at that area, designed locally by Groundswell Design Group and built by the brother of the owner of Dienner’s BBQ, one of the market vendors. During outdoor market-run events, RTM plans to provide pop-up retail kiosks to local artists, artisans, and entrepreneurs to sell their goods.

A previous iteration of the plan included additional retractable bollards at each end of Filbert, at the 11th Street and 12th Street intersections, which would’ve served to block off traffic during pedestrian-only events.

That didn’t make it into the final design, RTM spokesperson London Faust confirmed.

“If there is an event on the street it would get closed much like any other city street does during construction, events, etc. with barricades and security,” Faust told Billy Penn. The Market already does that with outdoor events in that space now, she added, like during Harvest Fest in the fall.

Mayor Jim Kenney, Councilmember Mark Squilla, and other officials participate in a groundbreaking for the project

Mayor Jim Kenney, Councilmember Mark Squilla, and other officials participate in a groundbreaking for the project

Asha Prihar / Billy Penn

It’s unclear exactly how often the street will be pedestrian-only, even after the transformation project is complete, but Faust noted there could be “the opportunity to provide a carless street more regularly once they see how it all comes together and what the demand is.”

A portion of the redone sidewalk will become a zone designated for rideshare pickups, intended to avoid traffic snarls that sometimes clog up Filbert Street, which runs alongside several hotels and the Pa. Convention Center.

It’s also next to SEPTA’s Jefferson Station, and the market intends for the design to help with wayfinding, per a press release.

Discussions to create this space began back in 2016, per Faust. Reading Terminal Market, the City of Philadelphia, Headhouse Square, the Pa. Convention Center Authority, and SEPTA worked together to secure $700,000 in grants from the state, the William Penn Foundation, and the Knight Foundation. The Convention Center — which owns the Reading Terminal and rents it out to the management company that runs the market — also put $300,000 toward the effort.

After COVID delays, the project is finally underway. Mayor Jim Kenney, who attended the groundbreaking, was buoyed by the progress.

“[This is] important, good work, we gotta keep on doing good things in Philadelphia,” Kenney said Tuesday. “Considering the struggles that we’re going through both in the city and nationally, we have to continue doing positive things, so we can stay positive and move the city forward.”