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The Kimmel Center, a popular downtown performing arts venue, will soon see design changes, due in part to the efforts of Penn Praxis. Designers hope to turn the center into a more welcoming public space.

A downtown performing arts venue is getting a public image boost from members of the Penn community.

Students and professors are teaming up with the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts this semester in an attempt to create a more vibrant and welcoming public space downtown.

The Penn Project for Civic Engagement and Penn Praxis - an offshoot of Penn Design that engages students and faculty in practical projects - are working to gather input from Philadelphia residents on how to renovate the Kimmel Center, home to a variety of operas, dance shows and off-Broadway plays.

Last month the Penn Project for Civic Engagement held a series of citizens' forums to find out how the venue, located on South Broad Street, could be transformed into an area more friendly to the public.

Their findings will be shared with Penn Praxis, allowing architecture and design students from Penn and the University of the Arts to formulate ideas on how to remodel the Kimmel Center.

Penn Praxis is best known for its work on plans for a seven-mile stretch of the Delaware River, which were released last November to mixed reviews.

Penn Praxis executive director Harris Steinberg said he was approached by the Kimmel Center a few months ago because Kimmel officials felt the building had diverged from its purpose.

"When it was built, the intention was for it to be a vibrant public place, 24/7," Steinberg said.

A trip to the Kimmel Center during lunch hour reveals that this is not the case.

Margaret Dupaine, who works at an office building a few blocks away, said she comes to the Kimmel Center's Commonwealth Plaza on nice days because she finds its empty spaces relaxing.

"I rarely run into anyone else here," Dupaine said. "The building itself is beautiful, but there's nothing to attract people here when there aren't performances."

Now that data has been gathered from the citizens' forums and other outlets for public opinion, such as online blogs, Penn Praxis project planner Andrew Goodman said it is in the hands of the students and professors.

"The next step in the process is to take all the data, all the ideas, everything that was discussed and to form principles for design," he said.

Although some Penn Praxis undertakings mostly involve graduate students, Steinberg said this project will include significant participation from Penn undergrads.

Steinberg said preliminary design ideas should be available in March, with more concrete plans completed by the end of the semester. Then the Kimmel Center will decide which modifications to implement. Kimmel Center officials did not return phone calls for comment.

"Ultimately it's going to be up to the Kimmel Center itself to decide how to proceed," Steinberg said.

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