Monday, December 15, 2014

Year in Review: New Comcast Center leaves hundreds scrambling for surface parking

Photo source: BuildingPhilly
By 2017, Philadelphia will have a new tallest building: the now-under-construction Comcast Innovation and Technology Center will jut 1,121 ft into the air high above the City that Loves You Back. ("That's 59 stories to you and me.") Forgotten in the excitement of a tower that requires redrawing the downtown skyline is the fact that hundreds of automobile-commuting Center City workers must now arrange for alternative places to store their cars after excavation commenced on the surface parking lot at 18th and Arch Streets.

The block, bounded by 18th, 19th, Cuthbert, and Arch Streets, has served as a parking lot since 1996. In early 1994, Sir-Parks-A-Lot, "the global surface parking authority," purchased the 28-story Reading and Baltimore and Ohio and Carlisle and Hanover Railroad Building, an office tower, which stood at the site since 1937. Sir-Parks-A-Lot promised to move their world headquarters into the architectural gem, but instead decided last minute to raze the structure and "welcome it to the company's numerous surface parking options."

The many who parked at the lot five days a week became close with each other and with lot employees. Mark Betricht, an attendant at the site until construction crews arrived, is the god father to six children of parking customers. "I'm going to really miss seeing this bunch of misfits," Betricht joked, adding a hearty laugh. "No, I'm kidding. We had a lot of fun and I met a lot of great people. I'm really going to miss Mrs. Jeselle bringing me homemade donuts three times a week."

"It's a sad but exciting day," said Patty Gilmore, 49, a Chester County resident and analyst with Lincoln Financial, after arriving at the lot one day only to see the entrance roped off and a towering yellow truck crane at the site's center. "I'm gonna miss that little--well, big--patch of asphalt parking paradise. It was my baby. I will miss her welcoming me in the early mornings and sending me off in the evenings."

The patrons and lot workers participated in a holiday gift exchange and held an annual sand volleyball tournament at the northwest corner of the site. "We had some great beach volleyball matches here," said Jeff Bonner, an analyzation officer with Cooper-Sinclair. "We created teams by the area where you parked your car. And, not only did I spike the ball, I spiked the punch."

When the lot was snow-covered everybody pitched in to yell at the plow operator if he or she plowed-in any of the vehicles or created piles that reduced the number of spaces. Hundreds volunteered for the charity car wash every July, an event that raised money for the annual beach volleyball tournament.

Not everyone has been able to accept the parking lot's demise and move on without a fight. Strong opposition by some forced Comcast and development partner Liberty Property Trust to release alternate renderings with the surface parking lot completely intact. Colorful, futuristic designs showed a nearly 60-story skyscraper suspended from "millions" of steel cables from the top and "hovering" thirty feet above the ground.

"I've been parking here for seven years," said Jean Tomlinson, 48, a Delaware County resident and downtown employee at Cigna. "What am going to do? No, really, what am I supposed to do. Surface parking options are dwindling in the office district. It sucks. The Wawa was just down the street and they're disappearing, too, in Center City. Plus, what other lot has sand volleyball?"

"I'm a surface parking lot gal," said Betty Talfone. "I can't park in a garage. I'm claustrophobic like that. I won't park in a garage...I just won't."

No comments: