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From Amazon HQ2 to Jewelers Row, Philly’s biggest cliffhangers of 2017

As we say goodbye to 2017, these developments have left us hanging

From Amazon HQ2 to Jewelers Row, some developments didn’t come to a close in 2017.
Courtesy of Fernando Garcia Esteban/Shutterstock.com

There was a lot to celebrate in Philly in 2017. The City of Brotherly Love had victories big and small, from the Eagles’ winning season to one of the best real estate markets in recent history to the unveiling of Philly’s first monument of an individual African-American.

And yet some of the year’s most-talked about issues and developments are still up in the air, and are likely to continue well into 2018. Here, Curbed Philly lays out Philly’s six biggest cliffhangers of the year, from Amazon HQ2 to the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Will Philly land Amazon HQ2?

Philly’s biggest cliffhanger is probably the same for the 237 other cities and towns that placed their bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. Philly, which has been named a top contender in various analyses, went all-out with their bid, whipping together a series of hype videos touting the city’s transportation, location, and talent and the three main spots where Amazon HQ2 could set up shop: Schuylkill Yards, uCity Square, and the Navy Yard.

While it didn’t so far as to change its name to Amazon, the city even launched an ad campaign in Seattle, plastering pictures of Philly scenes all over the West Coast city’s buses. Even Amtrak, which is redeveloping its 30th Street Station District, has postponed its search for a master developer in lieu of the Amazon hubbub.

Amazon is expected to make its decision, which is estimated to bring thousands of jobs and $5 billion in investments, in 2018. Until then, the thumb twiddling continues.

Rendering by SLCE Architects

Jewelers Row: The ultimate preservation battle

It may be hard to believe, but Toll Brothers’s plans to demolish a strip of buildings on Jewelers Row for a residential tower have been underway since 2015. And yet, the highly contested project continues to remain in limbo: In January 2017, the developer finally released renderings of a 29-story tower that caused plenty of feedback from the historic preservation community and local residents alike.

Things remained relatively quiet thereafter, until finally in December the project took another step forward when it was issued a new permit from L&I to demolish the buildings and construct its residential tower. Will 2018 be the year that Philly sees Jewelers Row, the nation’s first diamond district, change forever? We shall see.

The future home of the Rizzo statue

As the nation reckoned with the future of confederate monuments this year, Philly grappled with its own debate over its Rizzo statue. While Frank Rizzo was beloved among some in Philadelphia, his tenure as police commissioner and then mayor was also marked by his tough tactics, especially against African Americans and the LGBTQ community.

Over the course of weeks, the Rizzo statue at Thomas Paine Plaza was defaced, barricaded, and protested. The city then asked its residents to weigh in on the future of the Frank L. Rizzo Monument through a public comment session. Four thousand submissions later, the city announced it would remove the statue from the plaza.

But when and where remains uncertain—the city won’t begin the whole process until 2018.

Photo by Melissa Romero

Fixing Philly’s affordable housing crisis

Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez set off a spirited debate between housing advocates and developers when she proposed Bill No. 170678, a mixed-income housing bill meant to fix Philly’s affordable housing crisis early this summer. The bill calls for a mandatory law that would require developers to include a certain amount of affordable housing units in any project that includes 10 or more dwellings.

Both builders and affordable housing advocates seemed to agree that the bill was far from perfect, even after it was heavily amended. Still, after a grueling public hearing that stretched for five hours, the bill moved through the Committee on Rules and now lies in the hands of City Council, which will not vote on it until January 2018.

30 miles of bike lanes

Prior to taking office, Mayor Jim Kenney pledged to create 30 miles of protected bike lanes throughout city at a time when Philly had zero. One year later, Philly has just over two miles of protected bike lanes: A 1.1-mile lane in University City on Chestnut Street and another one in Mayfair. Compare that to New York City, which added 25 miles of protected bike lanes in 2017 alone.

The community’s call for more protected bike lanes was further pushed this year after multiple cyclists and pedestrians were injured or killed throughout the city. Most recently, there were two accidents—one deadly—occurred along Spruce Street, which has a bike lane that is heavily trafficked by cyclists, but is not protected.

In response, the city announced it would install another protected bike lane on South Street in 2018, but pointed to lack of funding for further implementation of other protected paths. Yet in 2016, Pennsylvania awarded Philly $250,000 to convert more than 27 miles into protected bike lanes, using what’s called flexible delineator posts.

Photo by Melissa Romero

Rebuilding Philly’s parks, rec centers, and libraries

Rebuild is a cornerstone of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration. Its lofty goal is to put $500 million toward renovating and rehabbing Philly’s parks, rec centers, and libraries.

Rebuild has its list of 61 sites that it wants to zero in on during the first phase. But one thing remains in limbo: The soda tax.

Philly became the first major U.S. city to pass a tax on sugary beverages in 2016. A portion of those funds would go toward Philly’s universal pre-K and the Rebuild program. But it’s been tied up in litigations: The soda beverage industry has been shut down in two courts, and it has finally appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Until then, the soda tax remains upheld.

Rebuild says its plan is to “scale up as soon as the beverage tax challenge is upheld.” The concrete changes that are in store for Philly’s aging parks, rec centers, and libraries remain to be seen.