Here’s another troubling sign for Philly’s commercial real estate market. Lacking viable tenants for storefront space, owners are beginning to look at alternate revenue streams for their costs. Facade banners are one such option, whereby companies wrap the street-level fronts of buildings with billboard-like advertising. How much money flows through these campaigns one can only guess, but I can’t imagine it’s significant… Certainly not enough to counter what the base and unsightly ads do to both the city’s architectural presence and streetscape. (Does SCRUB know about this?)
And let’s not even talk about how poorly-designed the graphic above is, or how it doesn’t account for a 3D surface. Yikes…
While empty shop windows aren’t favored by anyone—be they developer, planner, councilperson, or citizen—these banners are not the solution. A savvy agent would take note that they’re covering potentially-historic frontage (as above) and thereby shutting down any peek from a passerby or potential tenant. They also present a rather unseemly caricature of commercial owners/brokers who seem to care more about their bottom line than public good (or small business for that matter).
In the early 90′s, Philadelphia had an empty storefront problem during what was a major recession not unlike today. At that time, a visionary curator stepped forward with her idea for the ArtFront Partnership. The venture commissioned juried artists to transform dark, vacant storefronts into illuminated, dynamic spaces. The Arts and Business Council of Greater Philadelphia has twice honored The ArtFront Partnership as finalist for the Award of Excellence in Arts Management and the Award for Arts and Business Partnership.
This begs the question: why aren’t we doing something similar to this now? As Philly’s creative community has grown to include artists, entrepreneurs, and designers of all disciplines, there’s nearly limitless potential for dynamic storefront displays. As an advocate for Philly’s cultural scene, The Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy is tasked with improving our city’s creative profile (and revenues). This type of venture is an ideal scenario that could potentially do so across a large swath of individuals, organizations, and endeavors while at once championing business and Philly’s prime real estate as well.
Let’s put Philadelphia on the map with an innovative solution for a lagging economy. Partner with commercial building owners and offer empty storefront space to any number of artisans, artists, designers, architects, musicians, entrepreneurs and others. Be it a pop-up shop or performance space, a simple display or art installation, almost anything’s better than an empty window, or god forbid, a facade banner.
If you’re listening Gary Steuer, I’ve got an idea for you.