The “sharing economy” is changing Philadelphia … and fast

Pipeline Philadelphia Coworking Space

As most of you already know, I was born/raised in the suburbs (Yo, Abington) until the age of 18 when I ventured off to college at La Salle University (Go Explorers). It wasn’t until I lived on/off campus at La Salle for 4 years that I realized how much I truly enjoyed living in the city, and my passion and pride for Philadelphia has grown every year since.

I’ve always been a big fan of history, architecture, and culture, and Philadelphia has copious amounts of all three, not to mention the food, the neighborhoods, the people, the events/festivals, and much more. Suffice to say, I moved to Philadelphia proper in 1997 and never looked back, which means I have now spent more than half of my life living in the city.

Fast forward to 2017, and Philadelphia is experiencing one of the biggest resurgences of urban life in the US. Our skyline is growing (Comcast Technology Center + FMC Tower, for starters), our population is rising (for the last 9 years straight, not to mention that we now have the 2nd largest downtown in the US), and our citizens are younger, educated, and more motivated than ever before (hello, millennial contingent). Just walk around Center City or University City any day/night of the week, and you’ll see what I’m talking about; the positive energy is contagious.

So, what does the sharing economy have to do with what I just said? Well, everything actually. As Philadelphia is growing and changing, so are the ways we work, live, and travel.

First and foremost, let’s define the “sharing economy” (I decided to take the simplest definition I could find, via Dictionary.com):

“A system in which people rent, borrow, or share commodities, services, and resources owned by individuals, usually with the aid of online technology, in an effort to save money, cut costs, and reduce waste.”

Now we can get technical here about what is considered the “sharing economy” (versus “on-demand services” or the “collaborative economy”), but if you know me well enough, you also know that I prefer to keep things simple. So let’s break this one down PUL.com-style:

  • Office Space | How We Work: No, I’m not talking about the unbelievably-funny/accurately-portrayed movie by Mike Judge, I’m talking about Philadelphia’s commercial/office market and how it’s drastically changing … and fast. Take the office space that I work in for example, Pipeline Philly. It has all of the pros of a modern office space (enclosed offices, open work stations, floor-to-ceiling glass conference rooms, front desk/reception, etc), but in a more compact/yet-open atmosphere. I’m not sure of the exact amount of companies that work out of Pipeline today, but my guess is that’s it’s 50+. Yes, there are 2 floors of office space, approximately 20,000 sq ft, and 50+ different companies work there. That’s pretty amazing, especially knowing there are some floors in our building that only have 1 company. The collaborative work environment is alive and well in Philadelphia, as we are an emerging city for co-working spaces. Pipeline, WeWork, MakeOffices, Benjamin’s Desk, and Industrious round out some of the larger/more-popular spots, but there are many more smaller/niche spaces as well, such as Indy Hall, CultureWorks, CityCoHo, and Old City Collective. Shared office spaces and co-working are not only changing how our office buildings are designed, but it’s also reinventing the way we work.
  • Residential Buildings | How We Live: This one may not be as much of a game changer, but it’s a direct reflection of Philadelphia’s changing office culture. Not only are today’s Philadelphians choosing downtown as their urban area of choice (Center City, University City, and surrounding neighborhoods), but their living preferences are driving the multifamily real estate market like never before. Out of all the residential-purposed cranes in Philadelphia’s sky today, only a few are constructing buildings that you can buy in (e.g. condominium buildings, such as One Riverside + 500 Walnut); which means all of the other residential-purposed cranes are constructing buildings that you can only rent in (i.e. apartment buildings, such as 1919 Market, Bridge, The Alexander (aka 1601 Vine), + The Ludlow at East Market). Reason being, today’s Philadelphian is not only waiting longer to buy his/her first home (ahem, millennials), but today’s Philadelphian is also downsizing from Suburban Philadelphia (ahem, empty-nesters). That is why apartments are a very hot commodity these days, as millennials and empty-nesters are Philadelphia’s largest population growth segments. Not only has Philadelphia’s apartment scene changed, but leasing flexibility is changing right alongside with it. AKA, Roost, + Airbnb also offer both residents and travelers living options like never before.
  • Transportation | How We Travel: Philadelphia is known for having one of the best and most comprehensive bus/subway/commuter-rail systems in the US, but how Philadelphians prefer to get around is also changing fast. Services like Uber and Lyft have literally transformed Philadelphia’s transportation network overnight, while Philadelphia’s Indego bike-sharing service gives commuters another creative way to get around the US’ top city for bicycle commuting. I like to tell my clients, family, and friends that Philadelphia is a “manageable big city” (unlike our pals up in NYC), meaning that we are: compact, but not overcrowded; big, but not oversized; exciting, but not overwhelming. If you miss a train, hop in an Uber. If you miss a bus, grab a LyftLine or UberPool. Philadelphia now offers many different/convenient ways for people to get from A-to-B, at a reasonable cost, and in a short amount of time. Oh, and you can text and check email on your way!

So as you can see, the sharing economy is changing the way Philadelphians live, work, play, eat, and shop. If you would like to learn more about how the sharing economy is changing our city, check out this article from Sandy Smith at Philadelphia Magazine.

Is one of the keys to Philadelphia’s tax reform an increase in commercial property taxes? My take … yes.

philadelphia-skyline-night-2

That answer may be closer to “yes” than it has been in a long time. Hello, Philadelphia Jobs Growth Coalition.

The Problem:

The City of Philadelphia has unfair and archaic tax policies on both people who live in and/or work in the city, and businesses who are located in the city.

The Solution:

Find a reasonable fix without short-funding the city’s budget, and without increasing taxes on both city-based residential homeowners and city-based workers (as that has already been done too many times over the past half century, and hasn’t worked).

This is where the Philadelphia Jobs Growth Coalition comes in. As stated on their website:

“We formed with one goal in mind: fostering the growth of 50,000 to 100,000 jobs in Philadelphia over the next 10 years. We know how to make that happen; by reducing business and wage taxes, we can create an environment that encourages small and minority businesses to start and grow, existing business to expand or to relocate here, and workers of all kinds to find opportunity in Philadelphia. We can do this without opening any gap in the City’s budget, by increasing the property tax rate exclusively on commercial real estate and use that to provide immediate and substantial tax reduction for all workers and for all businesses, small and large.”

Sounds great, right?

I thought so, but there are always pros/cons to every public idea, theory, and solution. I mean seriously, did we not just go through one of the most insane presidential elections in history, where every voter had drastic differences in opinion? We did, and we’re getting through it.

What I personally find fascinating about PJGC’s approach, is that some of the city’s most prominent business leaders (i.e. Jerry Sweeney, Brandywine Realty Trust) are the ones actually proposing/supporting this idea. That means they personally stand to receive property tax increases on their city-based commercial properties, if this change in legislation goes through PA’s lawmakers. Just because it seems ironic, does not mean it doesn’t make sense for Philadelphia as a whole.

So, why would commercial property owners even bring this up as a solution?

Because they know that the commercial property tax increase they are proposing is a drop-in-the-bucket compared to what the positive wage/business tax changes would do for the City of Philadelphia, such as: bring more jobs to Philadelphia proper by competing with our suburban neighbors, decrease the wage tax for both city-based residents who work in the city and suburban-based residents who work in the city, and be more competitive on a national scale to other US cities that currently offer more business-friendly tax policies than Philadelphia. Oh, and the commercial property tax increase would still make Philadelphia competitive with our Northeastern neighbors (i.e. NYC, Boston, DC, etc); so there’s that too.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Well, it will most likely be an uphill battle, as we have all seen over the past few years with Governor Wolf. Just because Mayor Jim Kenney and “Un-Official” Mayor Paul Levy (that’s where the name “Levy-Sweeney Plan” came from) are enthusiastically behind this legislation, it does not mean that Philadelphia’s (and also, Pennsylvania’s) constituents are behind it as well. In order for this to move forward, and for Philadelphia to put an end to PA’s uniformity clause, it will take an amendment to the state constitution, two consecutive (and successful) sessions by PA lawmakers, and a voter referendum.

So needless to say, we still have a ways to go.

The good news is that people are finally starting to talk about this issue, both public and private, and a plan is on the table. It will be interesting to see how things play out in 2017, after passing the PA sniff test in June 2016.

Philadelphia’s “second” skyline will be here before we know it

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Today, when people talk about all of Philadelphia’s positive energy and potential, the discussion typically leans toward Center City. Some may disagree with me, but hey … that’s what opinions are for.

Center City has the best restaurants, the nicest/newest condos, and the densest population of people in the entire city. More or less, Center City is Philadelphia’s heartbeat. Anyone and everyone, young and old, natives and transplants, urban-born and suburban-born, most of them look at Center City first when considering a serious move to our city (believe me, it’s what I do for a living).

And you have to admit, Center City is pretty freakin’ awesome these days.

But … there is another super-positive discussion brewing among those who have a present/future stake in Philadelphia (i.e. developers, businesses, hospitals, universities, etc), that not too many have taken notice to yet. Yup, I’m talking about University City.

I know, I know … I know.

I’ve written many blog posts in the past about UC on the old PhillyUrbanLiving.com (which are now available on the all new PhillyUrbanLiving.com, woo hoo!), but there is something different in the air. Something bigger than anything I have seen/heard before about University City.

It’s almost as if UC has become a brand-new city altogether … right? There are brand-new restaurants (both local and franchise options abound), brand-new buildings (both public and private), and brand-new people (seriously, from like every corner of the world). But yet, I would still say that most conversations about Philadelphia these days, regarding the “new” Philadelphia (as some folks like to call it), still sway toward Center City.

Just last month, I caught a first-hand/up-to-date glimpse of everything that is going on right now in University City.

Andrew Janos, Ryan Garrity, and I recently took a hard hat tour of the new FMC Tower in University City … and man, what a great project that is shaping up to be. Ground floor commercial spaces, middle floor office spaces, and upper floor residential spaces (home to the future AKA University City). Not to mention all of the thought that went into the architecture + planning: sleek building design, stunning lobby, Cira Green, and an unbelievably-convenient location to Philadelphia’s business district and 30th Street Station (just walk right over).

When we got to one of FMC Tower’s top floors (40+ stories, in the open air), I got a sweeping view of both Center City and University City (as well as Fairmount, South Philly, etc). All sides of the floor we exited on to were only blocked off by guard rails, no glass had been put up yet; and since I don’t mind heights, I thought it was amazing. Of course, Center City is absolutely stunning these days (i.e. Comcast ITC, One Riverside, etc); dense, green, and buzzing with development. But, I will say that University City is definitely giving Center City a run for its money. New buildings, new parks, new neighborhoods, you name it.

That’s where we are currently, in September 2016.

Now … look ahead 35 years (which I know is not easy to do), and here’s what University City could look like (on top of what it already looks like):

  • 88-acres of new neighborhood: Built over rail yards (next to 30th Street Station), the Powelton Yard vision may be one of the most ambitious urban projects in the US.
  • Further development of the surrounding neighborhoods: Think live-work-play, residential-office-entertainment.
  • Connecting Amtrak & Septa: Making the connection better, safer, and more convenient.
  • New bus terminal: With a new pedestrian bridge, connecting Arch St to 30th Street Station.
  • More local parks and green spaces: Need I say more?

That’s right, we’re talkin’ serious. Feel free to click on any/all of my links above for more details.