With a three-word declaration, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke put his strong shoulder behind the planned $325 million remake of the Gallery mall: "I support it."
His backing gave momentum to the project as it was introduced for consideration Thursday. The package of six bills and one resolution, about 700 pages of legislation, would give the developer a big tax break and get the city out of the mall business, transferring control of the property to the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust.
Interviewed after Council met, Clarke said the project would create a significant number of jobs during construction and after completion.
He said he was impressed by a visit to the Fashion Outlets of Chicago, a discount venue that is a model for the local mall, which is expected to be renamed the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia.
Clarke said he had not sought to learn where each Council member stood on the proposal, leaving that job to its sponsor, Mark Squilla.
Squilla, whose district includes the Gallery, said he was optimistic of passage. Without the tax break, he said, the plan will die.
At-Large Councilman David Oh, a Republican in the Democratic-dominated Council, said he was just starting to consider the plan, but said, "From what I've seen, it looks pretty good to me."
At-Large Councilman Ed Neilson said he wanted to see the Gallery renovated, but needed time to study the legislation. "We're going to need more information before it goes forward," he said.
Both Neilson and Clarke said Council must consider the businesses that have been displaced by the Gallery's slow closing for renovation.
Council's approval is the last of three needed before PREIT and its partner, California-based Macerich Co., can begin construction of a retail center at the heart of a hoped-for revitalization of the Market East corridor.
Under a top-to-bottom renovation, the Center City "dead zone" would be reborn as a gleaming glass-and-steel emporium, filled with brand-name discount fashion shops and destination restaurants.
On Thursday, Mayor Nutter called the makeover a "once-in-a-generation project" that can "transform Market East, create thousands of jobs, and offer a new shopping and entertainment experience to Philadelphians and visitors."
To make the plan work, Council would have to let PREIT and Macerich keep $127.5 million in taxes over 20 years. That money would service the developers' $55 million loan for construction, renovation, and other costs. The state and the developers would cover the rest.