PhillyDeals: A year plus after Occupy, Dilworth is so different

City Hall is seen through an opening leading to a reservoir for a fountain. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)
City Hall is seen through an opening leading to a reservoir for a fountain. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer) (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 18, 2013

It's more than a year since police broke up the Occupy Philadelphia tent camp and workers started ripping out locust trees and moving stone for the $50 million reconstruction of Dilworth Plaza, west of City Hall.

It'll be more than a year until the crews are done. On a visit Wednesday, the worksite smelled of cut wooden forms and sandy concrete, a cleaner smell than the human and standing-water funk of the neighboring SEPTA stations, which won't be renovated.

But the work passed a milestone last weekend, when SEPTA closed the 15th Street station on the Market-Frankford, blocking through service for 52 hours, to replace the steel beams that will hold the new concourse above the tracks.

From nearby towers workers and residents can now watch construction, which has risen from as far as 40 feet down, where crews sunk new pilings and reinforced the old stormwater tanks in the empty lowest train tunnel.

The site hums daily with 50 to 70 workers, pouring and hammering and bending rebar from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., under general contractor Daniel J. Keating Co. They are building walls for the five new elevators (there were none) down to the Market-Frankford, Broad Street and West Philly trolley lines, below the future cafe and the glass covering over the wide central stairs, the corridors that will bear commuters and visitors to City Hall and the neighboring high-rises and back.

"It'll be a lot cleaner," said Arthur Littman, of Gilbane Inc., which oversees the site for the nonprofit Center City District. "It's going to feel a lot more open, a lot more safe, because of the clear sight lines."

The complex was rebuilt for walkers, not for the fountains or sculptures or views.

There will be new trees, and art.

"This is a much more complex process underground," but the three layers of deep work have come a long way, says Paul Levy, the chief of the Center City District. "The icing on the cake" - the surfaces and structures, the green and glass - "won't really start to emerge until the second half of this year. But the work is moving very, very well, on schedule."

The project is set to finish in June 2014.

Fresh bread

Chris Gheysens, who has been Wawa's CEO since New Year's Day, has an expansive idea of the 606-store convenience chain's place in the restaurant business, he told the Irish American Chamber of Commerce at its Pyramid Club lunch Wednesday.

Wawa, Gheysens explained, now wants its prepared sandwiches and hot meals to be seen, not as fast food, but as "fast casual" - in a league with fresh-food but no-waitress-to-tip Five Guys, Chipotle, or Panera. And without all the seating.

Wawa is still mostly move-you-along, see-you-tomorrow. Except in Florida, and at some new stores, which are adding chairs outside, with an ambiance that more closely resembles the big new Scheetz stores in central Pennsylvania and Ohio.

"In Florida, we're using the same feel, but a different store model [with glass walls] and seating outside," Gheysens said. "Go around Philadelphia, you don't see those stores."

A majority of Wawa stores now sell gas, but the CEO is still planning to upgrade smaller no-gas outlets, especially in Center City, and the popular-but-worn outpost at Penn: "That needs to be a landmark," Gheysens said.

Gheysens added that Wawa has made a decision on its store-baked bread experiment, in partnership with Amoroso's, Wawa's roll supplier: "By the end of the year you will have an oven in every Wawa."

There will be new uniforms, including "mock chef coats" to emphasize the eating-out idea. "Less clutter. Brighter colors," Gheysens said. "More consistent with what you find in a Panera or a Starbucks."

Contact Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194,, or on Twitter @PhillyJoeD.


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