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Construction has begun on a new Asian-style eatery, scheduled to open late this summer, which will be operated by popular Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr. Pod, previously slated for a spring opening, will showcase a $2.5 million retro-futuristic decor -- intended to conjure up a 1960s Japanese vision of the 21st century, according to Starr. "The design is always evolving," said the proprietor of the trendy Continental and Buddakan restaurants in Center City. As of this week, workers had installed the preliminary air conditioning and plumbing units, Starr said. Tom Lussenhop, the University's top real estate official, said the University is prepared for Pod's arrival. "We, the landlords, are ready to go," he said earlier this week, adding that Starr's "meticulous" attention to detail caused revisions to the construction schedule. Pod, to be located at 37th and Sansom streets next to the rear entrance of the Inn at Penn, will feature a conveyor-belt sushi bar -- one of only four in the country. The David Rockwell Design Group, the architectural firm which also designed the Nobu and Vong restaurants in Manhattan, will make its Philadelphia debut with the 7,500-square-foot restaurant. Designs include private seating areas, or "pods," where customers can alter their space's color with the press of a button. "This is a very complex [project]," Starr said, adding that a conveyor-belt sushi bar takes 14 weeks to build in Japan. According to Starr -- who recently opened the Moroccan-cuisine restaurant Tangerine at 232 Market Street and the French bistro Blue Angel at 706 Chestnut Street -- Pod's menu is not complete but will offer sushi and other Asian items. The 200-seat establishment, Sansom Common's second restaurant, will be less expensive than Starr's other creations. Meals and beverages will cost an average $35 per customer. Pod's lounge will provide continuous DJ entertainment. "We think it's going to be big," Starr said last month. The additions of Pod and a card and gift shop, slated for an opening later this spring, will mark the completion of Sansom Common's three years of construction, Lussenhop said. Philadelphia retailer Arnold Bank, who operates stores in the Gallery at Market East and the Shoppes at Liberty Place, will run the card shop. He will also operate a similar store in Houston Hall when it reopens later this year. Starr had also been asked to open a restaurant in Robert Redford's Sundance Cinemas complex, which is under construction at 40th and Walnut streets and scheduled to open this fall at the earliest. In recent months, Sundance ended the relationship after deciding to manage the restaurant itself, according to Senior Vice President of the Sundance Film Centers Scott Dickey. "We had some great conversations with Stephen," Dickey said yesterday. "If we need to, we will tap him."

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