The pedestrian walkway through the East Market development, which connects with the new Jefferson Plaza at 12th and Chestnut. (East Market/Facebook)

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Philly’s newest public space is a sign of what East Market Street could become, stakeholders said at a ribbon-cutting last week, regardless of whether or not the Sixers arena moves forward.

The new Jefferson Plaza is one of the final pieces in the massive development rising between 11th and 12th streets and Chestnut and Market streets. More than a decade in the making, the project — which is collectively (and somewhat confusingly) referred to as East Market — is also home to a hotel, residential towers, extended-stay facility, office space and retail, including a grocery store.

East Market has set “a really valuable, high standard” for the rest of the area to follow, said Paul Levy, the president and CEO of Center City District.

“They have proved that you can do hotel and office and residential and medical and still recreate all the great strengths of Philadelphia,” Levy told Billy Penn. “Its walkability, its grid, its quality public spaces.”

The space christened Jefferson Plaza is intended to serve as “an eddy, a quiet space of reflection” in the hustle and bustle of downtown, said Daniel Killinger, president of National Real Estate Development, which has led the project  with backing from its parent investment company, National Real Estate Advisors. 

Located at 12th and Chestnut, the plaza features a mural by Portuguese artist Diogo Machado created in collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia. It joins a micro-neighborhood connected by a pedestrian walkway that runs between Market and Chestnut through the buildings that tower overhead.

Jefferson Plaza at East Market, opening up the corner of 12th and Chestnut to the public. (Heather Chin/Billy Penn)

All told, East Market comprises six parcels of land. 

Two residential towers, The Ludlow and The Girard, contain more than 500 apartments as well as The Roost, a long-term stay hotel. The historically registered Stephen Girard Building, meanwhile, was converted into a Canopy by Hilton hotel. And 1100 Ludlow St. features 175,000 square feet of office space and 25,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, including Mom’s Organic Market. Other storefronts include outposts of Federal Donuts, Schmear It, Iron Hill Brewery, City Fitness, and T.J. Maxx.

The project will conclude next year when Jefferson Health opens the Honickman Center, a $762 million, 19-story building that represents the institution’s largest investment. 

This kind of development, with public spaces that aim to create a 24/7 community at street level, offers a window into the ways the 76ers might design an arena that works for the neighborhood, Levy suggested. 

The Sixers’ proposal to build a basketball stadium on a third of the existing Fashion District mall at 11th and Market has received heavy pushback. Critics have shown concern that the arena would “wall off and cut off” the neighborhood from the rest of the city, Levy noted.

Alex Breitmayer, managing director in the Philadelphia office of commercial real estate firm JLL, represented Cash App in its lease of office space at 1100 Ludlow St. 

The “placemaking” part of East Market, with its pedestrian walkways and plazas, is one reason companies want to be there, per Breitmayer — and not in spaces just a block or two away. To succeed, the Sixers arena complex would need to “face outward” and interact with the office and residential buildings and retail surrounding it, he said.

But “there’s a long way to go for Market East,” Breitmayer said, suggesting that continued revival of the neighborhood will require more developments of similar caliber. 

Market conditions don’t currently support the Fashion District occupying its full three blocks, said Levy, of the Center City District, adding that whatever happens, strengthening north-south connections to Washington Square West, Chinatown, Society Hill and other areas are part of what’s needed to ensure the corridor’s future success. 

“We have a whole lot more work to do, both in terms of renovating existing buildings and figuring out what to do with some old, really underperforming buildings.” Levy said. But thanks to East Market and its new plazas and walkways, he said, “Clearly the rhythm has been set up.”