The University staked its revitalization strategy for the 40th Street corridor on the premise that once its anchor tenants -- a movie theater and a supermarket -- were in place, the retail floodgates would open. But the Sundance Cinemas project at 40th and Walnut streets, after months of delays, is finally dead. And the viability of Penn's vision for the area where campus meets community is now seriously in doubt. We still believe that a movie theater represents an attractive, student-friendly option for the site. However, finding a new operating partner may well be impossible. In a saturated national market, chains are closing theaters, not opening them. Ritz, the major local chain, has expressed zero interest. And with Cinemagic 3 down the street, operators offering mainstream fare may be reluctant to enter the market. Penn should give due diligence to its search for a new movie partner. But it also has to consider alternative uses for the location. Neither campus sentiment nor business interests will tolerate a dormant construction site for long. And the University will have to settle the site's status soon if it wants to attract new tenants to the area, even if it means that it has to settle for someone less photogenic than Robert Redford to sell its vision. In a broader sense, the demise of Sundance Cinemas reflects the risk inherent in the University's development strategy. By replacing indigenous retail with national chains, Penn faces the prospect of stores fleeing a community in which they have little invested in the event of an industry-specific downturn, of which this is the case, or a general recession. The University's plans for 40th Street were grand in scope and steeped in the optimism that a single coup, like Sundance, could spark a virtuous cycle of business growth. That dream is now largely in shambles. We hope that the University can pick up the pieces -- and quickly -- to see at least some measure of its vision realized.Comments powered by Disqus
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