Last week, ground was broken on the 40th Street revitalization project. On a campus filled with various construction projects, last week's ceremony might have seemed inconsequential. But the ground breaking was more significant than previous ones for it marked the beginning of a project that is unlike any other in recent memory. But Penn's efforts to revitalize 40th Street, including the Sundance Cinemas, the specialty food market, and the parking garage, is one group of projects they can all agree on -- and not just because movie titan Robert Redford's name is attached to it. With the 40th Street revitalization, each of these constituents will see fulfillment of some of their long-standing goals. University President Judith Rodin and Executive Vice President John Fry have frequently voiced their desire to develop University City into a destination area which attracts people from all parts of the city. Sundance Cinemas will play a crucial part in making that happen. As a city, Philadelphia has too few movie theaters to serve the needs of its large population, so any new movie theater is bound to be an attraction. The movie complex will also offer more features than ordinary movie theaters. In addition to eight movie screens, Sundance will also have an espresso bar, a tapas bar, a video store with a selection of independent films and an independent restaurant operated by Stephen Starr. Since it offers such a complete and well-rounded experience -- including entertainment, refreshment, and discussion -- Sundance should also help accomplish another one of Penn officials' goals: having people in the 40th Street area throughout the day and night. Students have found much to be happy about with these new projects. One of Penn students' biggest complaints over the years has been the lack of a grocery store on campus. Students have said that the closest "real" supermarket to campus, Brown's Thriftway, is too far away to adequately meet their needs. The new supermarket that is also a part of the 40th Street revitalization, Fresh Grocer.com, will address these concerns. The market will provide the range of products available in a regular supermarket and will emphasize fresh foods. It will also have many other offerings that should appeal to students including an indoor and outdoor cafe (which will serve beer and wine), a sushi bar and a juice bar. Another longstanding student grievance is the lack of entertainment options available on campus. Sundance will go a long way to alleviate that concern. Most importantly, however, the 40th Street revitalization is perhaps the greatest success in University officials' efforts to improve relations with the surrounding community over the past few years. One way the project accomplished this goal was the extensive consultation University officials engaged in with the community. Penn officials solicited ideas from the community about what type of ventures they wanted to see in 40th Street and made sure to incorporate these suggestions. The people involved with the various projects made sure the aspects did not just appeal to students and others directly related to Penn, but to all members of the University City community. The projects are also important to Penn-community relations because they show the University's commitment to the 40th Street area. When Penn began construction of Sansom Common on the north side of campus two years ago, many community leaders feared University officials had abandoned interest in revitalizing the western side of campus. But the ambitious plans for 40th Street and the University's willingness to fund most of its $33.8 million cost put these concerns at rest. Although the 40th Street revitalization projects make most people happy, they are not without their potential downsides. The Sundance Cinemas model is untested in the real world and, while it looks great on paper, no one knows yet how it well it will actually pan out. Also, the project has already forced two long terms University City retailers to close, University City Nautilus and Burger King. While these are not huge concerns, it is important to remember to exercise some caution in the midst of all the excitement about the new movie complex, specialty food market and parking lot. It is a rare event when University officials, students and community members all are happy about the same thing, which is why the ground breaking for the 40th Street projects was so special. As these projects are completed over the next year, one hopes that these moments will become much less rare.Comments powered by Disqus
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