Work begins on Philly Live! entertainment site at sports complex

Now that the Spectrum has been demolished, work has begun on a scaled-down version of Philly Live!
Now that the Spectrum has been demolished, work has begun on a scaled-down version of Philly Live! (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 07, 2011

THE PHILLY LIVE! dream included a hotel, underground parking and a movie theater. The dream sprawled over 300,000 square feet, meant hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the city, and more than 1,000 permanent jobs.

More than 3 years later, the Philly Live! reality is a 60,000-square foot cluster of nine businesses, enclosed; a 40,000-square foot outdoor event space, ideal for concerts; and a parking lot, all where the Spectrum stood.

Still, with the country and the city mired in a prolonged economic slump with no end in sight, almost $60 million in revenue (which includes building costs) over the next 2 years is a blessing. So are 500 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs for the region. It gains even greater favor when it is privately funded, a venture split evenly between sports management giant Comcast-Spectacor and The Cordish Company, a specialist in this sort of development.

"This is a great project. It will only expand and grow," said Mayor Nutter, a devoted fan of the city's teams. "There is a growing life and synergy down here. The Phillies are just flat-out kicking butt. The anticipation of the Eagles. The rebuilding of the Sixers. The Flyers in the Stanley Cup [in 2010]."

All of which draws more than 8 million spectators annually to the South Philly neighborhood. Those spectators have virtually no options besides two sports bars: McFadden's, located at Citizens Bank Park, and Chickie's & Pete's, which is off Broad Street on Packer Avenue.

With the Eagles and Phillies perpetually selling out their games, those establishments have made money hand over fist since they opened.

"It's great to see those businesses doing well, but we always had tremendous confidence in this site," said Reed Cordish, vice president of The Cordish Company.

The concrete walls and floors and the metal studs that rise from the southwest corner of Pattison Avenue and 11th Street are Phase One, which began in April. It will include a marketplace area where Chickie's & Pete's will hang yet another shingle, and a huge sports bar. Phase One is scheduled for completion in the spring.

"Phase One" implies that further phases will come: the hotel, the subterranean parking, the theater; four phases in all. No definite plans are on the table for other phases, Cordish said, but he is hopeful that the gem of the project - the hotel - might materialize sooner than later.

"We would like to continue the momentum from Phase One and roll into additional phases," he said. "It's 100 percent on our radar."

As with Phase One, Cordish said his developers will target minority contractors, which delights City Hall. More than half of the jobs created will be filled by locals.

Phase One has been a long time coming.

It will be the latest of a string of entertainment and lodging venues the Cordish group developed in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla., in Houston and in Baltimore, where their company is headquartered.

In 2008, representatives from both companies indicated that plans could be finalized within a month, that construction could start within a year.

That also was immediately after the economic crash that froze the housing market, thrust millions out of work and garroted leisure spending. Suddenly, a high-end hotel/condo complex didn't seem quite as feasible.

Now, Philly Live! lives . . . if on a less grandiose scale.

The more modest beginning might not be a bad thing, Cordish insisted. Better to succeed and expand than to gamble big and lose.

"It is nice when things grow organically - when you don't just open with 300,000 square feet from Day 1," he said. "You let the site acclimate to that."

Cordish cast the time as ripe as any.

"With the economic slowdown in the country, projects got put on hold," he said. "We decided this was too important of a site to wait."

The wait will be just a few months more.

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