A design-review board for the city's biggest building projects expressed disappointment Tuesday with the latest version of developer Bart Blatstein's plans for the northwest corner of Broad Street and Washington Avenue, saying it still overwhelms the South Philadelphia site.
Blatstein's plan for a 32-story-high tower and outdoor shopping mall atop a podium of parking and larger-format stores suffers from overly long, unbroken facades and too few street-level entries, among other problems, members of the Civic Design Review board said at a meeting.
"If this is the best you can do to improve this scheme, in my mind, I'd go back to the drawing board," CDR chairwoman Nancy Rogo Trainer said.
The presentation was the proposal's second to the CDR board, before which projects passing certain size thresholds and other criteria must be submitted for nonbinding design suggestions.
On March 1, board members criticized the design for placing retail attractions atop the four-story-high podium at its base, undermining street-level activity around the site. They also voiced concern about its overabundance of parking and large expanses of opaque building materials.
In the design presented Tuesday, an indoor staircase leading from the street to the aboveground shopping plaza was brought into the open air, in response to suggestions calling for better access to the shops atop the podium. Architects also moved the residential tower slightly closer to the Broad Street side of the podium, away from residential streets.
But panel members were unimpressed with the alterations.
"It still feels like a wall between Center City and South Philadelphia," said Trainer, who suggested a throughway to break up the four-acre site.
Blatstein defended his project, saying many modifications, such as the consolidation of two towers into one, had already been made in response to community input, in addition to the most recent round of changes.
He said that it would be impossible to break up the site without creating "a dark alley," and that the large unbroken podium-top space was needed to achieve the necessary scale to make his project work.
"The fact that the site is so large allows for something very special and very different for development in Philadelphia," Blatstein told the board. "I understand that maybe it's something hard to get your head around, but I've seen examples of this around the world."
He declined after the hearing to elaborate on where he'd seen the examples, saying he had a meeting to attend.