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The space that Marathon Grill used to occupy on 40th and Walnut streets remains empty. Ed Datz, Penn’s executive director of Real Estate says the University is in its final phases of sealing a deal with a new retail partner. Christina Wu/DP File Photo.

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Despite University City’s thriving cosmopolitan image, three restaurant vacancies continue to haunt Penn’s campus — Marathon Grill, La Terrasse and Philly Diner.

Marathon and La Terrasse closed their doors in May and February, respectively, while Philly Diner vacated Oct. 16. Ed Datz, Penn’s Executive Director of Real Estate, said the University is in the final phases of negotiation with both Marathon’s and La Terrasse’s replacements and will be able to announce the newcomers in mid-to-late November.

Some students were enthusiastic about potential openings and were vocal about what they wanted to be eating. For instance, College sophomore Sierra Parker would like to see an “authentic Mexican food restaurant.”

“Being from California, the fake Mexican food here isn’t cutting it,” Parker said.

Datz maintains that Penn’s campus is a “highly sought-after market in restaurants,” and that the fact that all three vacancies are restaurants is a coincidence. Penn has some of the “highest sales per square foot in the region on food and beverage,” he added.

Datz said Marathon Grill, though successful during its stay at Penn, was not as successful as the chain’s downtown locations, and the MarBar on the second floor of 200 S. 40th St. never attracted hordes. The new developments in the Radian posed a certain extent of competition and the decision to close was made amicably and “collectively,” Datz added.

Penn Appétit editor-in-chief Alex Marcus thinks Penn is missing “basic food.” The Wharton senior said he liked that Marathon offered a good salad, pancakes and burger and would like to see “similar concepts, just executed better.”

La Terrasse at 3432 Sansom St. also had difficulty finding its “niche” within the Penn dining community, explained Datz. Though the restaurant had a “long history of fine French dining,” in recent years it veered from the original model and became part-bar, part-restaurant. Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services worked out a deal with the owners as they “needed to close.”

Many were upset about the closings, including College sophomore Alex Schwartz, who wants La Terrasse back “just the way it was.”

While Philly Diner had a long run, its building “is coming into the end of its usefulness” and FRES is looking into creating a “small development” or a new restaurant in that space, though no decisions have been made yet.

In the Philadelphia area, there has been a 10 to 15 percent decline in fast casual dining and a 15 to 20 percent decline in white tablecloth dining due to the economic downturn in recent years, said FRES spokeswoman Jen Rizzi. Urban Studies professor Michael Nairn agrees with that assessment. As he explained, “disposable income is down for many people, area rents are fairly high and demand is down.”

Though the statistics in the Penn area might differ, the reality is that in this economy “people are eating out less which requires restaurants to be nimble” and adapt, explained Datz.

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