Spectrum replacement Philly Live! is scaled back

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Plans for Philly Live! called for 350,000-square-feet of entertainment space. Now, the project has shrunk to a "Phase One" building less than a quarter of that size.

TOMORROW AT HIGH noon, after Comcast Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, Sixers immortal Julius Erving and Flyers Stanley Cup champs Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent say their final farewells to the 43-year-old Spectrum, the wrecking ball will fall, and the big question is:

Now what?

A couple of years ago, the original buzz on life after the Spectrum's final buzzer was a Spectacor-tacular, 350,000-square-foot restaurant/entertainment wonderland called "Philly Live!" that looks, in Baltimore-based developer Cordish Co.'s rousing concept video, like the love child of a steamy affair between the Wildwood boardwalk and the King of Prussia Mall.

Then the economy tanked - and it remains limp.

So, for now, the 350,000-square-foot Philly Live! pleasure palace has shrunk to a 40,000-to 45,000-square-foot "Phase One" building featuring a huge sports bar with Philadelphia hockey and hoops memorabilia.

"We may bring in the penalty box from the Spectrum, or the backboards or pieces of the basketball court," Comcast Spectacor spokesman Ike Richman told the Daily News.

Tomorrow's Spectrum demolition is by wrecking ball, not implosion, so it will take months to bring down the building, fill in the hole and prepare the Spectrum lot for development.

Phase One construction is expected to begin in April and be completed by mid-2012, Richman said.

Gary Block, vice president of Cordish, has provided no drawings or further details of Phase One, and he did not respond to Daily News requests for an interview.

Instead, he sent an e-mail response to Richman: "We are in discussions on the exact concept of the space and we hope to announce our plans soon."

Meanwhile, the Cordish website continues to feature that thrilling video of Philly Live! - "a destination retail, dining and entertainment district . . . that will energize the South Philadelphia area surrounding the sports complex" - along with an equally pulse-pounding one for Ballpark Village next to the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis - "a $650 million mixed-use retail, entertainment, office and residential district" projected to be "the centerpiece of downtown St. Louis' revival."

The problem is, four years after it was supposed to open, Ballpark Village remains an enormous empty lot. Nothing in the Cordish video exists in real life.

Cause for concern here?

Alan Greenberger, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said that although economic concerns caused Philly Live! to be scaled back to "Phase One," he isn't worried.

"What we have here, as opposed to what they have in St. Louis, is a bigger market with all four major sports teams at one location, centered on the Philly Live! development site," Greenberger told the People Paper.

"We're not just dealing with home baseball games, as they are in St. Louis," he said. "We also have football, hockey and basketball, plus a whole slew of other events at the Wells Fargo Center. So we have year-round possibilities that you won't get with just one stadium. The critical thing is getting over being nervous about the economy."

Mitigating that nervousness is that unlike Ballpark Village, where projected financing includes tens of millions of dollars from city and state governments, Philly Live! is to be developed solely with private money.

This was emphasized at a City Council hearing on the project in June, during an exchange between City Councilman Jim Kenney and Cordish's Block:

Kenney: "One question - How much city or state money is in this deal?"

Block: "Zero."

Kenney: "I knew the answer to that question."

Block: "I know you did."

Kenney: "But I wanted to make sure we got it on the record."

Comcast Spectacor has a "ground lease" with the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development that gives it the right to develop the city-owned Spectrum property for the next 50 years, just as that lease gave Comcast Spectacor the right to build what is now called the Wells Fargo Center.

Sam Rhoads, senior vice president of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., said: "From the city's point of view, the beautiful thing about a sports arena is that everything down there gets taxed. You buy a ticket, buy a beer, park your car - it's all taxed. The same will be true for Philly Live!, which is basically going to be a retail complex where everything gets taxed."

Deputy Mayor Greenberger said he foresees Philly Live! as a destination independent of sports-complex events. "You don't have to have tickets to an Eagles game to go there, because people will see it as a cool place to hang out, a place where a lot of people are hanging out, having a good time," he said.

"Maybe you don't want to spend too much money on a mediocre stadium hot dog," he said, laughing. "Maybe you'd rather spend the same money in a Philly Live! restaurant on something that tastes better - and watch the game on TV."