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After 30 years, South Philly's Snyder Plaza starts revitalization with mural makeover

The murals are just the start of a multi-year revitalization project

Thirty years ago, a local development company debuted a retail hub in South Philly. Though called Snyder Plaza, it was really more like a large swath of surface parking lots surrounded with big-box stores.

It was Goldenberg Group’s first project in Philadelphia, a 316,537-square-foot retail hub that, given its proximity to I-95, attracted car-drivers to run errands and buy up home goods.

But that was three decades ago, when car-friendly, suburban-like shopping centers were all the rage. Times are different, and Goldenberg Group is returning to its first stomping grounds—of its 7 million-square-foot portfolio, it now owns an impressive 1 million square feet from at Snyder and Columbus Avenue alone—for another go at it, starting with a mural makeover.

On Friday, the Goldenberg Group and the Mural Arts program will be debuting Murals at Swanson Walk, four murals by local- and nationally-recognized artists adorning the walls of stores like Marshall’s, Rite-Aid, and Kicks USA. Not only will the debut party mark the launch of Mural Arts Month, but it will be the start of Goldenberg Group's long-term project to re-imagine Snyder Plaza.

"We see our projects as the hub of the wheel and not just something we build and then leave," says Ellen Lissy Rosenberg, Goldenberg Group’s vice president, development and civic engagement. "This was a really interesting opportunity to go back to Snyder Plaza, our first project, and take a look at how we can make significant improvements to the center itself."

Goldenberg Group reached out to the Mural Arts Program last year about partnering on Snyder Plaza, though developer Ken Goldenberg and founder Jane Golden go back to the 1980s when Golden first moved to Philly.

"Given that Jane and Ken are both really dynamic, thoughtful people who love this city, I think they’ve been thinking about partnering for three decades," says Rosenberg. "They both just are excited and energetic and want to do good things for the city."

After considering a slew of artists, Goldenberg Group chose Steve Powers, Peter Ferrari, and local artists Joe Boruchow and Isaac Lin.

"There was no specific theme, in reality it was just an eclectic group of different kinds of artists who have different backgrounds and followings," says Rosenberg of how they chose the artists.

Mural at Swanson Walk is just the start of Goldenberg’s multi-year plan to reinvent Snyder Plaza. Official plans have yet to be released, although Rosenberg says that they will include not just capital improvements, but also new stores, public spaces, improved walkways, and better connections to the neighborhoods. The retail hub is currently separated from the surrounding South Philly neighborhoods by the interstate.

A photo posted by Joe Boruchow (@joeboruchow) on

"I-95 creates a psychological barrier, just like Broad Street does. So you have to be very deliberate and thoughtful about making that a pleasant place to walk around," says Rosenberg.

That's why teaming up with Mural Arts made sense as the first step in Snyder Plaza's re-do, she adds. "Partnering with Mural Arts warms up the property and gives personality to it, says Rosenberg. "We’re re-imagining the community."