A kiosk serving Starbucks coffee that’s planned for the south end of Dilworth Park has sparked controversy and outrage among residents over the past few weeks.
Most recently, an online petition created on Thursday was circulated over the weekend, calling for the Center City District (CCD), the group behind the kiosk, to “Stop building a Starbucks in Dilworth Park.” The petition had already garnered nearly 5,000 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
The 600-square-foot kiosk, which is under construction now, was first made public during a Civic Design Review meeting late last year by the CCD. They outlined a coffee shop that would be walk-up only (meaning no indoor seating or space), but there would be seats included around the shop. A “green wall” in the back would include plant life and serve as a buffer between the park and the street.
There’s already a sit-down Starbucks coffee shop on the northern end of the park, as well as a La Colombe—a Philly-based business—on the street across from the proposed kiosk.
In an interview with Curbed Philly in December, Paul Levy, President of the CCD, said that the kiosk would provide convenience to park visitors, meaning they wouldn’t have to leave Dilworth to grab a coffee. He added that it would also bring green space to the park, which has been criticized in the past for being too grey.
The proposal for the space went virtually unchallenged until last month, when Conrad Benner, author of the popular blog Streets Dept., took notice.
“There are 12 coffee shops within a two minute walk of Dilworth Park,” he said in an interview with Curbed Philly Tuesday. “If their goal is to create amenities for the city, there are things they could do better.”
Shortly after learning about the development last month, Benner took to his blog, which he normally uses to showcase public art displays around the city, to express his frustration for the plan. Benner followed that with an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer, addressing the same subject. His primary concern centers on how public space—like a park—is being used by a private entity.
“I think our public space is too valuable to be sold off like this just for profit,” he wrote in a blog post entitled, “Bad leadership leads to a Starbucks being built in Dilworth Park.”
Levy responded to the use of the space in a statement to Curbed Philly Wednesday, clarifying that no public land has been sold to a private entity.
“The $55 million in improvements that the CCD made to Dilworth Park in 2014 are all owned by the City of Philadelphia, including the new coffee stand,” Levy said in the statement, clarifying that the CCD is leasing the kiosk to their current café owner, who has entered into an agreement with Starbucks.
“Revenue CCD earns from the kiosk will be devoted 100 percent to park maintenance and programming, helping to employ more than 40 workers who maintain the park,” Levy said, adding that the CCD does not make money off of the park.
Still, outcry has grown in the weeks following Benner’s posts and opinion piece.
“It seems that there are very few defenders (of the coffee shop),” Benner said Tuesday, suggesting that even though public meetings were held at the end of last year to discuss the proposal, they weren’t well advertised and few people even knew about the project.
Benner said he has yet to hear back from the CCD, and that city officials haven’t spoken out about their plans for the project. However, following the outcry, the CCD did post a “fact sheet” about the planned Starbucks on their website late last month.
If the petition gets no response by the end of this week, Benner said opponents of the kiosk may start planning a protest for early next week.
As for what could go in the space instead of a Starbucks, Benner has several suggestions, including a free library or just the green space, minus the kiosk.
“If the Starbucks is your only answer, I don’t think you have the right team in place and you’re not thinking creatively enough,” he added.
Note: This story was updated to reflect a comment from CCD head Paul Levy Wednesday afternoon.