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GUEST COLUMNIST: 40th Street earns broad support

(05/20/99 9:00am)

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, 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.

JOKE ISSUE/Redford scraps Sundance Cinema plans

(04/07/99 9:00am)

Just one day after the University released plans for the Sundance Cinemas complex, movie mogul Robert Redford announced that he was pulling out of the project. Instead, Redford said that he would open his first movie and entertainment complex on the campus of Princeton University. The movie titan's decision means that the University no longer has an anchor for its plans to revitalize the 40th Street corridor. "We have no idea about where to go from here," Penn Executive Vice President John Fry said. "I guess we are all just going to have to enjoy FWOT for a little while longer." In announcing his decision, Redford said that he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the project after he spent two days in West Philadelphia last week. "When I first announced the project, I thought that I wanted to help revitalize cities," Redford said. "But after spending time in West Philly, I realized that it really is just a dirty, disgusting, dark and depressed place." University administrators expressed outrage about Redford's characterization of the city. "West Philadelphia is certainly not dark," said Esual Sanchez, the University's director of neighborhood initiatives. "After all, we had UC Brite until Penn pulled the plug." Redford said that he secretly approached Princeton last week about building his first complex there and that school's administration was eager to take on the project. "We may not have beat Penn in basketball but at least we beat them at this," Princeton President James Shapiro said. Despite Redford's claims that the state of West Philadelphia was the basis for his decision, sources close to the movie star claim that he had other, more personal reasons. The loss of Sundance is a major setback for University administrators' plan to turn campus into an upscale retail mecca, according to Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official. "We thought we finally had a campus full of retail and entertainment options that no member of the community could possibly afford," Lussenhop added. "We wanted to make this campus one that all the upper-middle-class students from Long Island could enjoy and Redford ruined all that," Fry said. "I hope that his next movie bombs." Student leaders expressed their disappointment that Redford made the decision to bail out of the project without consulting them. A rally is planned to protest the issue later this week.

COLUMN: The Dot introduces a new on-line era for DP

(02/22/99 10:00am)

A new name. A new look. A new attitude. Today, we are proud to unveil our newest publication:, or, as we like to call it, the Dot. Our guiding mission is to make the Dot interesting, relevant and fun for Penn students to read. At the heart of this approach is a unique feature called "Today's Special." Every weekday brings another installment of one of our five irreverent, off-beat and informative features. If it's Monday, it's time for our over-the-top advice on relationships, "He Said, She Said." Our two columnists -- one male and one female -- provide battling perspectives on provocative issues. Today's question: "Is your best friend's ex off-limits?" On Tuesday, the special is a "best-of" list. Past topics include the "Best Places to Study on Campus" and the "Best Places to Get Take-Out on Campus." Wednesdays mean Ivy Roundup -- news and opinion from student newspapers at the rest of the Ancient Eight. Want to know how Dartmouth students feel about their changing Greek system? This is the place to find out. On Thursday, we present a look at what's hot and what's not called "Quaker Watch." And if it's the weekend and you don't know what to do, head over to Friday's feature, the "Extended Going Out Guide." Presented in conjunction with 34th Street, the feature provides an extended listing of what is going on at Penn and in Philadelphia. But the site's original content doesn't end with "Today's Special." The Dot also offers three continuing series. "Spotlight on Student Groups" takes a look at a different student organization every Tuesday. You'll never have to wonder about all those student organizations you see lining Locust Walk again. Past editions have looked at Mask and Wig and Pennchants. This week, the Spotlight will shine on the Rap Line. And our weekly "Technology Today" feature focuses on issues like the ICQ revolution. The latest edition of "Technology Today," on-line now, ranks 10 popular MP3 search engines. Our newest feature, "Millennium Watch," is an off-beat look at issues surrounding the millennium. Look out for the first edition appearing next week. But the Dot is not just about fun features. We have games, too. Answer our daily trivia question correctly and you receive a point in our trivia contest. At the end of the semester, the contestants with the most points will win fabulous prizes. And we remain your on-line source for America's best college daily -- posted on-line by 4 p.m. every day. But if you can't wait to discover what is in the DP, you can find out early in our "Preview" section -- posted every night by 1 a.m. And while you are there, you can also find out what to wear to class the next day in our weather section. The Dot is also committed to keeping you informed at all times, and so we occasionally post breaking news and sports articles, including men's basketball and football results. We are excited about all our new initiatives and believe that Penn students will really enjoy them. However, we are constantly improving the site. Please let us know if you think we are doing a good job. Or if you don't. So if you are looking for features, articles, services and games that are interesting, useful and fun, surf on over to .innovative .exciting .entertaining .thedot

EMS opens Fri. in Sansom Common

(11/25/98 10:00am)

As the outdoor-gear store gets set to open, officials say they are pleased with sales from current retailers. Eastern Mountain Sports, an upscale chain specializing in outdoor gear, will open Friday to complete the first phase of Sansom Common. And if officials' assessment of the new retail complex's performance so far is any indication, the store will sell its jackets, hiking boots and other products more briskly than even its management expects it to. Sales from three other retailers that have been opened since July in the Penn-owned building have met or exceeded expectations, according to University officials and store operators. Officials refused to disclose any specific revenue figures. The EMS store at Penn -- which in January will feature a 20-foot climbing wall -- will be the 116th for the 31-year-old chain based in Peterborough, N.H. It joins the new University Bookstore, which anchors the complex at 36th and Walnut streets, the Xando coffeehouse and bar, Urban Outfitters clothing and Parfumerie Douglas cosmetics. Penn officials have expressed hope that the mix of upscale and trendy stores in Sansom Common will lure more shoppers and foot traffic to University City. Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official, said the stores have been a "huge success" so far. "The success of the current stores has resulted in a powerful demand for the remaining spaces in the complex," he noted. The arrival of EMS will complete the $90 million first phase of Sansom Common and fill the 6,000-square-foot-space on the building's eastern side between Xando, which opened in August, and Urban Outfitters, which opened in October. The bookstore opened in July, and Parfumerie Douglas opened last month. The second phase of the project will include the 256-room Inn at Penn, as well as two additional retailers and a restaurant. The entire project, estimated to cost $120 million, is scheduled to be completed by next fall. Lussenhop said University officials will announce what three establishments will occupy the remaining spots in the complex "early in the new year." As the complex readies for the arrival of EMS, Parfumerie Douglas, located on Walnut Street, has been doing "very well," according to store manager Sandy Iannaco. "The students seem to really enjoy all the goods we offer," Iannaco said. "We expect it to get even better as we incorporate more imported goods into our merchandise." Urban Outfitters has also been performing strongly, according to Director of Stores Jay Hammer. "We have been very pleased with how well the store has been doing in the first weeks since it opened," Hammer said. And the bookstore has been doing well also, according to Penn Interim Vice President of Business Services Marie Witt, whose department oversees the Barnes & Noble College Bookstores Inc.-operated store. Officials at Xando did not return repeated calls for comment. University officials also have an eye to the future. Plans for the Doubletree Hotels Corp.-run hotel are still in the preliminary stages, although University officials did name its restaurant Grand's Bar and Grill and decided on a menu of upscale cuisine.

U. plans for 'Grand' eatery at new hotel

(11/17/98 10:00am)

An upsclae restaurant is planned for Sansom Common's Inn at Penn. The new Penn Bookstore and three neighboring retailers are up and running, with a fourth coming soon. Now University officials are focused on the next and final phase of the $120 million Sansom Common. The major aspects of that phase will be the 250-room Inn at Penn and the hotel's restaurant, which University officials recently christened Grand's Bar and Grill. Although plans for the 190,000-square-foot hotel and the restaurant are still in the early stages, University officials have made some preliminary decisions regarding menu and location. The restaurant will have a large, "upscale" menu, according to Larry Moneta, associate vice president for campus services. The bar part of the 3,700-square-foot restaurant will be located on the ground floor of Sansom Common, with its own entrance near the intersection of 37th and Walnut streets. The restaurant will be located above the bar on the second floor. This phase of Sansom Common will also include two retailers and another restaurant in addition to the hotel and Grand's. It is scheduled to be completed next fall. The hotel and the restaurant will be operated by Doubletree Hotels Corp., which runs hotels at such universities as Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Virginia Tech. In two to three months, officials from Doubletree will come to Penn to begin formalizing the specifics of the hotel and Grand's, according to Moneta. "We will rely on [the Doubletree officials] to provide us with the expertise to put the restaurant, as well as the hotel, into operation," Moneta said. However, while Doubletree will operate the hotel and restaurant, Moneta said the University will retain ultimate control over all decisions. The name for the restaurant comes from an old restaurant that operated in the area near Sansom Common many years ago, according to Moneta. "We want to connect this project to the community in every way we can," Moneta said. In addition to the restaurant, the Inn at Penn will also include a ballroom, four meeting rooms, a health club and a gift shop. Sansom Common currently houses the Penn Bookstore, Xando coffeehouse and bar, Urban Outfitters clothing and Parfumerie Douglas cosmetics. The last store of the first, $80 million phase of the project, the upscale sporting goods store Eastern Mountain Sports, is scheduled to open within the next two weeks.

U.'s housing deal far from the norm

(11/12/98 10:00am)

Lucrative area properties, such as the ones Penn recently bought from a local landlord, rarely change hands. There's a reason you never see a "for sale" sign on any of the houses in the area immediately west of campus. The houses east of 43rd Street between Walnut Street and Baltimore Avenue are some of the most profitable investments anyone can make in the area, which is why their owners rarely put them on the market, according to local landlords. Rentals to Penn students -- almost half of the school's 10,000 undergraduates live off campus, mainly in this area -- are dependable and lucrative. Moreover, the University City rental market is the hottest it's been in years, primarily because Center City is packed. That makes the University's July purchase of area landlord Campus Associates, which owned and operated 200 rental units in 36 area buildings, all the more interesting. Neither institution had announced the transaction, and both have refused to disclose its financial terms or the exact location of the properties beyond saying they are in the vicinity of 39th and Pine streets. "There is such demand for the housing just west of campus," said Mark Sherman, owner of Sherman Properties, which operates 84 rental units. "Why sell it when it makes so much money?" As a result of this high profitability, many individuals or groups buy property in the area immediately west of campus with an eye toward long-term investment, according to Arthur Bye, the owner and broker of Urban & Bye Realtor, which has 180 rental units. While real estate turnover in most markets is around 25 to 30 percent annually, in the area west of campus, turnover is between 2 and 3 percent, Bye said. Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official, expressed similar sentiments. He said that a significant number of the properties in the area east of 43rd Street are held in a few ownership portfolios assembled over several years. These properties rarely change hands. But Lussenhop said many property-ownership groups are now at a "stage in their life cycle" where they are either looking to pass on their properties to their children or sell them. "The families involved with [the Campus Associates properties] decided it was in their best interest to sell them to us," Lussenhop said. Campus Associates officials would not elaborate beyond saying the deal was in all parties' best interests. Sherman, though, said that "there is no need to sell these properties unless someone wants to offer you a ridiculous price that is much more than the rental income." The purchase was the latest in the University's efforts to reverse an area housing trend. Over the past several decades, the University has expanded farther and farther west, opening Superblock, for example, in 1970. As the school grew, students looked to the area east of 43rd Street between Walnut and Baltimore for housing. Investors bought single-family homes in the area and carved out multiple rental units inside them. Lussenhop said the University's acquisition was the latest part of its long-term plans to secure more housing opportunities for faculty and staff members and reduce the number of undergraduates in area housing. Officials have not yet made any definite plans for the properties. It is possible, therefore, that the University will take many of its newly purchased buildings off the student rental market. Late last month, University officials unveiled a comprehensive, $300 million plan to revamp housing and dining facilities over the next 10 years. One part of the plan calls for the net addition of 870 beds to on-campus housing options. And last spring, University officials announced an initiative to buy run-down homes, rehabilitate them and then sell them as single family homes. Penn also unveiled two programs that provide cash incentives for faculty and staff members to buy homes and remain in University City. These initiatives have had an overwhelmingly positive effect on business and the neighborhood, according to several local realtors. Bye, however, said he is skeptical of Penn's plan to reduce student density because of logistical difficulties -- converting the properties back to single-family homes is one -- that could hurt the properties' value.

U. buys dozens of area apt. buildings

(11/11/98 10:00am)

Penn purchased Campus Associates' 36 area properties. In one of the University's biggest real estate deals of the last few years, Penn recently bought area landlord Campus Associates, which owned and operated 200 rental units in 36 area buildings. The move is part of the University's ongoing effort to expand its involvement in the area surrounding campus. Officials from the University and Campus Associates refused to disclose the exact locations of the properties or the financial terms of the deal, which was completed on July 1. Neither institution had announced the acquisition. No definite plans have been made about the immediate future of the properties, all of which are in the vicinity of 39th and Pine streets and are currently occupied, according to Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official. But Lussenhop said the purchases were a part of the University's long-term plans to secure more housing opportunities for faculty and staff members and to reduce the density of undergraduates in area housing. Last spring, University officials announced an initiative to buy run-down homes, rehabilitate them and then sell them as single homes. Penn also unveiled two programs that provide cash incentives for faculty and staff members to buy homes and remain in University City. "It's too early to tell exactly what we'll do with the properties, but we're obviously involved in a major neighborhood transformation," Lussenhop said. The properties and the management functions of Campus Associates are now under the control of Penn's for-profit real estate arm University City Associates, which is operated by Trammell Crow Co. Lussenhop said the University is "looking to acquire a significant stock of housing in the near-in neighborhoods" and that "this purchase offered us a chance to consolidate and improve off-campus housing options." "We are going to try to determine where opportunities for single-family homes and housing for graduate students exist as well as look at streetscape and block improvements," Lussenhop said. A variety of factors attracted University officials to the properties, according to Lussenhop. Because the deal involved so many properties, the University will be able to make large-scale improvements with a single investment. Also, properties in the area east of 43rd Street rarely become available for purchase, largely because landlords are often reluctant to sell properties for which they can charge high monthly rents. Penn officials approached Campus Associates in November 1997 about acquiring the company and they closed the deal eight months later, according to former Campus Associates Managing Director Ric Cohen. "This is a deal that made a lot of sense for all the parties involved," said Cohen, an attorney who consults on real estate and entertainment issues. The purchase is the latest of Penn's area real estate buys. In the fall of 1996, Penn bought the Sheraton University City hotel for $12 million and paid $1.95 million for 16 properties with 115 residential units located north of campus. Two years earlier, the University bought the former Christian Science church at 4012 Walnut Street for $850,000 and renamed it the Rotunda.

Rep. Fattah easily rolls to a third term

(11/04/98 10:00am)

The party seemed like an afterthought, the race a foregone conclusion, but Chaka Fattah was still excited to have won his third term in Congress representing an area that includes West Philadelphia. "I am grateful for the overwhelming support my constituents gave me," the Democrat said last night at the Adam's Mark Hotel on City Avenue. "Now I've got to focus on dealing with all the issues that the district and nation still face." About 15 of Fattah's family members, close supporters and staffers gathered in a hotel suite to celebrate his landslide victory in the 2nd Congressional District over Republican challenger Anne Marie Mulligan. The results came as no surprise to the 41-year-old Fattah and his supporters, who have known for months that he would be heading back to Washington for another two years. Fattah, a 1986 graduate of Penn's Fels Center of Government, won 86 percent of the vote to Mulligan's 14 percent with 96 percent of precincts reporting. The virtually unknown Mulligan, an immigration lawyer who had great difficulty raising money, never posed a serious threat to Fattah. Mulligan and her supporters gathered at Billy Murphy's Irish pub in North Philadelphia last night. They said they were content that they had expressed their political opinions in the race. "It's important for every candidate to have opposition," said Mulligan, 35. "That's the lifeblood of our democracy." Fattah's supporters said they were extremely pleased with the congressman's performance so far. "He has done a fabulous job," Rosetta Smith said. "He's taken a very personal interest in education and done an active job in securing money for it." Fattah had a successful second term in office. The former state legislator secured the passage of his $140 million High Hopes/21st Century Scholarship bill, which will encourage sixth graders to go on to college by assuring them of the availability of financial aid. "The scholarship program is definitely my biggest accomplishment as a congressman," Fattah said. "But it's early in my career, and I plan to do a lot more." Fattah intends to introduce major legislation in the next term that would mandate equity in spending on students between school districts in the same state. "In the majority of our states, there is a very different level of investment on a per-pupil basis," Fattah said. "To then say that every student has had the same opportunities in their schooling is untrue." The congressman also plans to introduce legislation to change the system for allocating federal summer jobs and to encourage profit sharing in companies by offering federal procurement incentives. Although Fattah faced minimal opposition at home, he has been very active during the election season. He gave much of the $300,000 he raised to other candidates, spent time campaigning for other Democrats and spoke in California about the importance of education issues. "In these types of campaigns it is very important to help other candidates that share your views," Fattah said. Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer Ari Alexander contributed to this article.

New corp. to lead 40th St. development

(11/03/98 10:00am)

The movie star and the market already committed to coming to campus. All the University needed was a way to manage and pay for all of it. To that end, the University Board of Trustees approved a plan Friday that would create a new for-profit corporation to handle the financing and development of the new retail and entertainment projects -- including Sundance Cinemas, a specialty-food market and a parking garage -- in the vicinity of 40th and Walnut streets. The University recently christened as Hamilton Square the area which will include the new construction and the existing stores in the Hamilton Village shops. The corporation, to be headed by University administrators, is called Hamilton Square Inc. Although no plans have been finalized, officials intend to secure outside investors to finance the debt stemming from design, development and construction costs of the project. Final cost figures have not yet been determined, though the Trustees authorized the University and the new corporation to borrow up to $35.5 million, or up to $19.5 million for the movie complex and other retail uses and $16 million to build the garage. Penn Vice President for Finance Kathy Engebretson said that by establishing a separate corporation, the project's revenue and debts are more easily differentiated from the University's other expenditures and revenues, she said. "In doing it this way, you can see what the project's cash flow is," Engebretson said. "Otherwise it might get lost in all the other University business and be a little murky." A month ago, University officials joined Robert Redford to announce that the movie titan, in partnership with General Cinemas, would open one of the first Sundance Cinemas ion the country in the Hamilton Village shopping center. Construction on the more-than-40,000-square-foot complex, which will include six to eight screens, a public meeting area, restaurant, outdoor cafe, bar and childcare center, is scheduled to begin in January and last a year. University officials also announced that a multi-story garage with a specialty food market on its ground floor, operated by area entrepreneur Pat Burns, would open on the northwest corner of the intersection. The new corporation will be led by a governing committee made up of Penn Executive Vice President John Fry, Treasurer Scott Lederman, Managing Director of Real Estate Tom Lussenhop and the University's associate general counsel, Roman Petyk. According to Engebretson, the University intends to initially fund all of the construction costs without using the outside loans. As a result, Penn will not need to secure financing in order to begin building. Sundance Cinemas and the market will not contribute anything to the construction costs, but will have to pay unspecified costs associated with moving in, Engebretson said. University administrators hope to secure all the necessary financing of the debt by the time the components open in January 2000, Engebretson said. The University is "currently evaluating whether to lock in the financing early. You pay an extra fee, but interest rates are attractive right now, so it's a trade-off," she added. If the plan goes through, the University would then use revenue generated by the complex to pay back the investors who are financing the debt. The ultimate cost to Penn would be nothing. Officials hope that the project's entire debt will be financed externally, although nothing is set in stone, Engebretson said. No investors have formally committed to the project. Engebretson said, however, that officials have talked to many potential parties who would be interested in participating in the project. Once the University secures the outside financing, the Trustees' Ad Hoc Committee will have to approve the terms of the deal. Other University administrators and officials from Sundance and the new market could not be reached for comment.

Politics to dinos: A Civic Center primer

(11/02/98 10:00am)

Penn and CHOP are likely to develop some sites of the historic buildings just southeast of campus. In its 94-year history, the Philadelphia Civic Center has hosted one of the widest ranges of political, cultural, religious and animal figures imaginable: from the pope, the Beatles and Nelson Mandela to Hillary Clinton, George Bush and a bunch of dinosaurs. Now, more than two years after it stopped hosting regular public events, the set of five buildings near the southeastern edge of Penn's campus is about to enter a new phase. Last Thursday, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell introduced a bill that would turn most of the center over to Penn and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for the creation of a world-class cancer-research and -treatment center. Under the terms of the bill -- which City Council could pass by the end of the year -- Penn and CHOP will jointly develop 10.7 acres of the 19.2-acre site into research laboratories, patient-treatment facilities, office space, three large parking garages and commercial venues. Developing the property will cost an estimated $450 million, most of which will come from Penn. The new plans for the structure are fitting for something that included "the wrong buildings in the wrong place at the wrong time," according to George Thomas, a Penn lecturer in historic preservation and urban studies. "It has always been an on-again, off-again place," Thomas said. "It would have a big convention, then do nothing for a while." Turbulent Start The first building in the modern Civic Center complex dates back to around the turn of the century. In three ordinances from 1895-1897, City Council transferred to the Board of Trustees of the Commercial Museum, 56 acres, which would become the site of the current center, according to Sarah Zurier's 1997 Penn master's degree thesis entitled Commerce, Ceremony, Community: Philadelphia's Convention Hall in Context. The Commercial Museum, originally containing industrial-type exhibits such as new machinery, opened on the site in 1904. The next step was the construction of a convention hall. A committee created by Philadelphia Mayor John Reyburn to find locations for a convention hall identified two sites in 1910. However, conflicts among various city interests and lawsuits by Philadelphia residents stymied construction of the hall for 20 years, according to Zurier. On January 7, 1930, Mayor Harry Maceky led the groundbreaking on the hall, after years of debate and political maneuvering about the location. It was completed on June 8, 1931, and welcomed its first convention, of the American Medical Association, soon after. When it first opened, the structure was often referred to as a "white elephant" because of its large size and its perceived opulence during the Depression, according to Zurier. The Convention Hall would be the site of many important political moments in its first decades of existence. The Democrats held their 1936 national nominating convention at the site, which became famous after 1928 Democratic presidential nominee Alfred Smith walked out following the renomination of Franklin Roosevelt. The Republican Party held their national nominating convention there in 1940. Philadelphia and the Convention Hall became the center of American political life in 1948. Both major parties held their national nominating conventions at the site, as did the Progressive Party, which had split from the Democratic Party earlier in the year. However, in the years following its grand opening, the Convention Hall and the Commercial Museum suffered from 30 years of bad management, according to Zurier. In the early 1950s, the governing board installed new leadership and adopted a substantial renovation campaign of what was then called the Trade and Convention Center of Philadelphia. In 1967, after having substantially renovated the Grand Exhibition Hall and the South Building, the entire complex was renamed the Philadelphia Civic Center and the museum was rechristened the Civic Center Museum. Pennsylvania Hall, the last of the five buildings in the complex, opened in 1978. The Civic Center again became a focus of American politics in 1984 when it hosted the debate between vice presidential candidates George Bush and Geraldine Ferraro. But political events were far from the only ones held at the center. The nationally known Flower Show and shows of homes, boats and cars were among the events that called the Civic Center home over the years. The Civic Center also hosted some of the most popular musical acts of the day during its long history. The Beatles made their only Philadelphia public appearance ever at the Civic Center in 1964. The Grateful Dead played a series of shows there in the summer of 1984. More recently, the Beastie Boys performed at the complex. In addition to its impressive music roster, the center has also been the venue for many famous speakers. Pope John Paul II and the Reverend Billy Graham have spoken there, as did Nelson Mandela during his 1993 Independence Day tour of Philadelphia and Hillary Clinton in 1994. None of the these speeches, however, caused as much controversy as the Louis Farrakhan speech in 1995. The city's Commission on Human Relations initially denied the Nation of Islam a permit to rent the center on the ground that the event would only allow men. The Commission eventually allowed the controversial organization to rent the facility when the group's leaders promised to let women in. Beginning of the End The beginning of the end for the Civic Center came in a 1982 study produced by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The study identified six potential sites for a new convention hall, all of which were in Center City, according to Zurier. The study's recommendation became a reality in 1993 when the city celebrated the opening of its new $522 million, 1.3-million-square-foot Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City. The Civic Center suffered from a steady loss of some of its marquee events following the opening of the Convention Center. The Civic Center Museum was dismantled on July 1, 1994. In 1996, the Flower Show moved downtown after 30 years at the Civic Center. And, also after 30 years, Temple University moved its graduation exercises from the center to its campus. The Civic Center finally closed after hosting a professional wrestling match in June 1996. But the Civic Center did not go out with a whimper. The state spent $650,000 to renovate the center and a warehouse in Pittsburgh into a soundstage for movie productions. In 1997, part of the recently-released Beloved was filmed at the center and it is currently being used for The Sixth Sense, an upcoming film starring Bruce Willis. And the Civic Center reopened last March to the public with the launch of Dinofest. The month-long event, the largest dinosaur exhibit in the world, featured lifelike re-creations of dinosaurs and attracted 444,870 visitors. It was the last large-scale event held at the complex.

Having a ball at Sansom Common

(10/23/98 9:00am)

City and Penn luminaries are expected to attend the Beaux Arts Ball, held annually in an unfinished building. A construction site is rarely considered the ideal venue for an elaborate party, but more than 3,500 people are expected to pack the incomplete part of Sansom Common at the 17th-annual Beaux Arts Ball tomorrow. The black-tie ball, thrown by the city Foundation for Architecture every year in an unfinished building in Philadelphia, will be held on the first and second floors of the still-under-construction part of Sansom Common between 36th and 37th streets. Dozens of University and city luminaries are scheduled to attend. "The party is a way to welcome to the city a great new building and to have a celebration the whole city can participate in," said John Higgins, the executive director of the Foundation for Architecture. Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, University President Judith Rodin and Penn Executive Vice President John Fry are among those currently planning to attend the event. The theme of the affair is "Site and Sounds of the Silver Screen: Shimmer on Sansom." Entry costs $250 for the entire event, while attending only the after-dinner party costs $75 in advance and $85 at the door. Proceeds benefit the education programs run by the foundation. The party will be held in the section of the University retail-and-hotel complex housing the building's second construction phase, which is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 1999. It will hold the Inn at Penn, two retailers and a restaurant. The first phase of the complex includes the Penn Bookstore, Xando coffeehouse-bar and Urban Outfitters clothing as well as Eastern Mountain Sports and Parfumerie Douglas cosmetics, which are scheduled to open within the next month. The party will start with cocktails and dinner at 6:30 p.m. and continue with the ball from 9:30 p.m. until 3 a.m. At midnight, there will be a parade featuring those partygoers who decide to dress in costume. Prizes, including a trip for two to Rome and a full set of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed plates from Tiffany's, will be awarded for the best costumes. Higgins said that he and other foundation officials have been planning the ball for nine months, but 30 to 40 people began busily preparing the site yesterday. In recent years, the ball has been held at the Apollo at Temple University, the Naval Base, the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Marriott Hotel.

NEWS ANALYSIS: Theater brings risk, huge potential

(10/14/98 9:00am)

The Sundance Cinemas deal has the potential to turn around 40th Street and boost community ties. and Scott Lanman The recent announcement that a Robert Redford-backed art-house cinema and a specialty food market would come to campus represented the fruits of two ongoing, major efforts of University administrators: improving relations with residents of the surrounding community and bringing exciting ventures to campus. But in the process of realizing these goals, University administrators are taking a risk on an unproven venture -- albeit one backed by two established businesses -- and are displacing several long-time retail denizens from their current positions in the Hamilton Village shopping center at 40th and Walnut streets. Nevertheless, the 40th Street redevelopment has far-reaching implications. University officials hope the introduction of the movie complex and the food market will have a positive impact on a wide area, extending north to Market Street and south to Baltimore Street, Penn Executive Vice President John Fry said. "We want to make 40th and Walnut [streets] the locus of a huge amount of activity," said Fry, who oversaw the deals. At a press conference on October 2, University officials announced that movie titan Redford, in partnership with General Cinemas, would open one of the first Sundance Cinemas in the country in the Hamilton Village shopping center at 40th and Locust streets. Construction of the more than 40,000-square-foot complex -- which will include six to eight screens, a public meeting area, restaurant, outdoor cafe, bar and childcare center --is scheduled to begin in January and last a year. University officials also announced that a multi-story parking garage with a specialty food market, operated by area entrepreneur Pat Burns, would open on the northwest corner of the intersection. Burger King and longtime campus gym University City Nautilus, both located in the Hamilton Village shops, are being forced to close. Their neighbor, Bucks County Coffee Co., will close around November 1 and reopen when construction on the theaters is completed in early 2000. Although it is unclear whether other retail changes in the strip mall are in the works, University officials have said they are looking to bring more-upscale shops to the building, which currently contains fast-food joints, a convenience store, a bicycle shop, Radio Shack, a shoe store and other businesses. Penn officials aren't worried about any negative reaction from area residents, many of whom reacted with enthusiasm to the plans for the theater and specialty food market -- something students and community members had clamored for. Many community leaders had previously expressed fears that the new Sansom Common project might represent Penn's abandonment of plans to revitalize the 40th Street area. Still, some expressed concern that the garage would be an eyesore. John Betak, an area resident who leads the Spruce Hill Community Association's Renewal Committee, said last week that the garage will be "a massive structure no matter how creative the architect is." "It will fundamentally alter? how 40th Street feels," he said. In addition, on a campus that was left without any movie screens for a few months when the only two campus cinemas closed in 1994, the ultimate success of a brand-new complex with as many as eight screens -- even one with the big-guns of Redford and General Cinemas behind it -- is unclear. Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official, said administrators are confident that the new movie complex will be a hit, citing Sundance's "18-year track record encouraging and distributing independent films" and General Cinemas' being "among the most experienced theater operators in the world." One of those theaters, the AMC Walnut Mall 3, reopened in 1995 under new ownership as Cinemagic. When Cinemagic originally opened, it showed a mix of mainstream and niche films. More recently, though, it has stuck to box-office hits; currently playing are Rush Hour, There's Something About Mary and Urban Legend. Cinemagic owner Andrew Sheppard has not responded to requests for comment in recent weeks. Also, much of the Sundance project is still up in the air. At the press conference to announce the new venture, Redford offered no firm design plans -- only ideas about what would be included in the new complex.

At Walnut St. shop, it's all fun and games

(10/13/98 9:00am)

They got games. On October 9, Game Gallery -- which sells and rents video and computer games and buys back used ones -- moved into a storefront near 40th and Walnut streets, filling a campus-retail void left by last January's departure of Software Etc. from the 3401 Walnut Street complex. The approximately 1,200-square-foot property currently occupied by Game Gallery is one of the few non-University-owned retail spaces surrounding the Penn campus. The retail change means that Campus Text -- a popular discount textbook seller that briefly operated in the space for a few weeks at the beginning of the semester -- will likely not move back into the space anytime soon. Campus Text replaced Going Greek, which sold Greek-letter paraphernalia to Philadelphia fraternities and sororities. Going Greek closed last January when the 13-store chain went out of business. "I live in Philly and this is an area I've always wanted to put a store in," store owner Manuel Metsikas said. "I've been looking for a 'for rent' sign for a while and I finally found one." Game Gallery -- part of a 15-store chain with locations in and around Philadelphia -- sells new and pre-owned games for the many Nintendo systems, the Sony PlayStation and personal computers. The store, which offers students a $3 discount, also rents games. Metsikas said he hopes to attract students as well as area residents to his newest location. The Game Gallery's one-year lease -- which started at the beginning of October, according to Metsikas -- would prevent Campus Text from selling books in that location during the next two semesters. Campus Text, originally named Penn Text, operated from Ryder trucks beneath the 38th Street footbridge from 1994 until 1998. In the May 1997 settlement that resolved Campus Text's 1996 lawsuit against the University, Campus Text was ordered to seek Penn's authorization before operating on campus. After the company formally requested to keep its 38th Street location, the University failed to respond quickly enough for the bookseller to plan its fall sales. This forced the company to find the alternate location, owner Michael Saewitz said last month. Campus Text officials did not return repeated calls for comment yesterday. Despite the short-term lease, Metsikas said he "plans on being on Penn's campus for a long time."

New market to bring specialty foods to 40th St.

(10/09/98 9:00am)

The as-yet-unnamed market will be built on the ground floor of a new parking garage at 40th and Walnut streets. Students hungry for a late-night arugula fix will not have to go far once a new specialty food market opens on the edge of campus within a few years. The market will be located on the northwest corner of 40th and Walnut streets. And it will offer an array of fresh produce -- including arugula and a juice bar --Eas well as other prepared foods and regular groceries. The 30,000-square-foot facility -- which has no name and no formal design -- will be built on the ground floor of a new Penn-operated parking garage and operated by area entrepreneur Pat Burns, who owns two high-volume supermarkets in the Philadelphia suburbs. "It's going to be a very special market, so it needs a very special name," said Burns, a 30-year veteran of the food and catering industries. The opening date of the new store has not yet been determined, Burns said. Administrators hope the addition of the specialty market, as well as the parking garage and the new art-house Sundance Cinemas going up across the street, will make 40th Street a highly traveled corridor and a destination for all University City residents. The 40th Street development, the new Sansom Common complex and other recent additions like the Eat at Joe's diner are part of Penn's broad plan to revitalize the area and increase foot traffic. The new market will be located three blocks east of Brown's Thriftway, the only other supermarket in University City. It will feature perishable foods like produce and meats and will cook much of it's prepared food on the premises in a large, state-of-the-art, open kitchen, Burns said. A coffee bar, a juice bar and possibly a sushi bar will be among the unique aspects of the new store, he added. But it will also have "all the basics that are supposed to be found in a supermarket," assured Burns, who incorporated a new company, Walnut Supermarket Inc., to own and operate the store. Burns said he hopes to give the new market an "open-air feeling" by putting large windows on the side of the market facing Walnut Street, so that all members of the community will "feel involved with the market." In order to ensure that the residents of the neighboring communities feel welcome, Burns said he also plans to offer a wide selection of multicultural food and advertise aggressively in West Philadelphia. University officials have been negotiating with Burns for more a year, and both sides signed a letter of intent within the last 30 days. The finalized lease should be signed within the next 30 days, according to Burns. While Burns has no experience with this type of market, he owns two 80,000 square-foot supermarkets, Drexeline Supervalu in Drexel Hill and Barclay Square Supervalu in Upper Darby. The stores are not affiliated with Supervalu Inc., one of the nation's biggest supermarket chains. While these are high-volume supermarkets, Burns said they have some features that will characterize the new specialty food market, including the emphasis on foods prepared freshly on site. Tom Lussenhop, Penn's top real estate official, said he has "complete confidence" that Burns will succeed in the new format. "His current store displays the open kitchen, prepared foods and high-quality foods that will be present in the new market," Lussenhop said. Because the store is different from anything that he has ever done, Burns said he wants a "unique" design for the store. He said he is interviewing designers from across the country and will select one soon.

Greek mixer canceled by Public Safety

(10/08/98 9:00am)

Officials claimed that the event would differ from the original proposal. and Catherine Lucey Penn fraternity and sorority members who were planning to dance and drink during tonight's all-Greek mixer at Moravian Court will have to change their plans, as the Division of Public Safety decided at the last minute yesterday to cancel the event. Officials from Public Safety and the University's Greek student umbrella groups are blaming each other for miscommunication surrounding the cancellation, which was announced yesterday afternoon in an e-mail from the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs to all fraternity and sorority presidents. The Greek Week mixer was scheduled to last from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. It was slated to have a disc jockey as well as food and alcohol from the restaurants in and surrounding Moravian Court, the block sandwiched between Sansom Row and the 3401 Walnut Street complex. University Director of Police Operations Maureen Rush said the police decided to cancel the mixer when they were informed that tonight's event would continue late into the night and that various restaurants would serve alcohol, a description that differed radically from how the event was first presented to them -- as a booze-free "information session." "The whole complexion of the event changed at the last minute," Vice President for Public Safety Tom Seamon said. "I had to make the painful decision to cancel it." But when told of Seamon's remarks, Greek Week Committee Co-Chairperson Liz Bernard said the plans for the mixer had not changed since the Greeks began planning it last February and that the the police were responsible for the communication problems. She added that Tom Carroll, OFSA's assistant director, had tried to contact Rush to discuss the mixer for "a long time." "[Rush] just recently got back to him," said Bernard, a College senior and Sigma Delta Tau sister. "The next thing I knew the event was canceled." Seamon said he "found it hard to believe that [Rush] would not call them back if they had called her." Neither Carroll nor OFSA Director Scott Reikofski could be reached for comment last night. Representatives of the Moravian Cafes food court, who worked with the Greeks to plan the event, and officials in the office of the Vice Provost for University Life originally told the police the event would be an alcohol-free information session, held from 4-7 p.m., according to Seamon. But Seamon said VPUL officials told police on Tuesday night that the event had changed to a late-night mixer where alcohol would be served. "The way the entire party was set up and with what else was happening that night, we came to the conclusion that we did not have the resources to provide adequate security," Seamon said. When told of Seamon's comments, Bernard countered that the officials at Portfolio Marketing Group -- who represent Trammell Crow Co., the operators of the food court, and were helping the Greeks to coordinate the event -- were always aware of the nature of the event. "They were the ones who hired a band, which we later changed to a D.J. They were the ones that contacted [the bars] New Deck [Tavern] and Mad 4 Mex," Bernard said. Bernard said there was a discrepancy about the hours, which she thought Portfolio representative Kate McAllister had resolved. She said McAllister thought the mixer would be held from 4-7 p.m. When the Greeks told McAllister of the error at a September 30 meeting, she agreed to change the hours and said she was confident that the new time would not cause any problems, Bernard said. Neither McAllister nor any representatives of the VPUL could be reached for comment last night. InterFraternity Council President and College senior Josh Belinfante said he was "extremely disappointed" by the cancellation since the event has been in the works for so long. Other Greek Week events include tomorrow's screening of Good Will Hunting on College Green and a carnival on Saturday. Both Greeks and non-Greeks can participate.

UC Nautilus to close, clearing way for theater

(10/06/98 9:00am)

The gym is one of several retailers being displaced by the project. and Eric Tucker Jackhammers won't break ground for Robert Redford's new art-house movie theater complex for several months, but the early tremors of the project are already being felt by several area retailers, at least two of whom will leave the 40th Street area soon to make way for the cinema. Longtime campus gym University City Nautilus -- located on the Locust Street side of the Hamilton Village shopping center, the future site of the movie complex -- is being displaced by the construction and will close for good at the end of the day tomorrow, its manager said. Its neighbor, Bucks County Coffee Co., will close around November 1 and re-open when construction is complete in early 2000, a supervisor said. Burger King will also eventually leave its location at 40th and Walnut streets, Penn officials said; whether it will continue to operate elsewhere is unclear. "We don't have a place to do business," said UC Nautilus manager Bob Stern, who has worked at the gym for 17 of the 20 years it has been open. "We can't find a place in the neighborhood that's suitable." Stern said the closing of his 300-member establishment has nothing to do with last month's opening of the University's $1.2 million Katz Fitness Center, a two-story, high-tech, 7,500-square-foot facility inside Gimbel Gymnasium at 37th and Walnut streets. Bucks County will also be closing its doors, although only temporarily. Tom Lussenhop, the University's top real estate official, refused to comment on the store's future, except to say the University is "working on a creative relocation project" with Bucks. The third retailer affected by the project, Burger King, will be entirely displaced to make way for the theater, although officials refused to elaborate on what elements of the complex would take up the restaurant's space. Administrators have also announced plans to build a new parking garage and specialty food market, run by the owner of Philadelphia-area supermarket operator Drexeline, on the current site of a University-owned parking lot at 40th and Walnut streets. These additions are part of an ongoing effort to revitalize 40th Street and neighboring areas. At a press conference on Friday, Redford joined University President Judith Rodin to announce that one of the first-ever Sundance Cinemas would open on campus. The 40,000-square-foot-plus facility will likely be equipped with six to eight screens, as well as a restaurant, public meeting area, bar and video "library." The University informed Stern over the summer that the gym would have to find a new location by December in order to make room for the theater, Stern said. Penn officials identified a variety of potential sites, including two locations in the 4015 Walnut Street building -- which currently houses The Daily Pennsylvanian and University record-storage sites -- according to Stern. "University City Nautilus has been a good tenant. Unfortunately, we weren't able to locate another appropriate location for the gym," said John Greenwood, the managing director of University City Associates, Penn's for-profit real estate arm, operated by Trammell Crow Co. None of these sites, Stern said, is suitable for an exercise facility. He cited "visibility, size and a place to hang a sign" as criteria for the new UC Nautilus. Still, the gym is searching for another location in a different area, particularly Center City, Stern said. UC Nautilus currently serves about 200 students and 100 West Philadelphia residents, some of whom voiced disappointment over the gym's closing. "This is definitely a disaster," said Engineering junior Toochie Pal, who said he worked out at UC Nautilus four times a week. "One of the reasons why I go here is because it's so close" to his home. In the future, Pal said, he'll "go to Gimbel." John Puckett, a 51-year-old area resident and seven-year UC Nautilus member, said he thinks the closing is "sad." "It's been a neighborhood kind of place and certainly convenient for folks like me who live in West Philadelphia," said Puckett, who also expressed interest in joining Gimbel. Stern said gym patrons will either receive refunds or have their memberships transferred to a Center City gym, although no plans have been finalized. Equally disappointed were employees next door at Bucks County Coffee. The coffee shop, which opened in 1995, will also close down to make way for the theater, albeit temporarily. The company has another campus location on the 3400 block of Sansom Street. "I'm losing my job," said Leah Murray, a 22-year-old shift supervisor and student at the nearby Community College of Philadelphia. "I'm not going to sit around and wait for Bucks to open back up. I won't be here." Officials hope the newly renovated cafe will complement the entertainment complex when it opens for business sometime in 2000. But while Bucks and Nautilus employees said they were sad to leave campus, officials at several other 40th Street stores expressed optimism about the development. "I think it's going to have a huge impact on this area," said Paul Ryan, owner of Smokey Joe's bar and restaurant. "It makes it a destination for people all over the city. The possibilities are endless."

ON THE RECORD: 'Sundance Kid' discusses cinema plans

(10/06/98 9:00am)

Robert Redford discusses Penn, 'ghetto'-life and his reasons for opening a new campus theater. Actor-director-producer Robert Redford visited campus Friday to unveil plans for a new art-house movie theater complex on 40th Street, a move that will allow him to take on another hyphenated title: that of movie-theater owner. Redford, one of the film industry's most respected and powerful figures, starred in classics such as The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- the film for which the chain of theaters is named -- and won an Oscar for directing 1980's Ordinary People. In 1979, he founded the Sundance Institute to help develop independent films. He bought the U.S. Film Festival and renamed it the Sundance Film Festival in 1984 to showcase these types of films. During a Friday press conference, Redford announced that one of the first branches of his chain, a joint venture with General Cinemas, would open on campus. After the press conference, he sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian for about 20 minutes to talk about movies, his relationship with University President Judith Rodin and his commitment to helping the West Philadelphia community. DP: You said that the University's efforts to involve itself in the community were the major reason you decided to come to Philadelphia. How did you first become aware of the University and President Rodin's efforts? Redford: Because I was aware of the programs she was trying to install, and I thought it was the answer to the future. I think the universities' stepping out of their ivory halls and engaging with communities is the answer to the future because of the collapse of leadership at the top, both morally and politically. The cynicism we are now living in [comes from] a kind of desperation about not getting any access to real culture?. The answer, rather than coming through the federal levels, is going to come through the communities. I'm pretty focused on the importance of community, whether it's a community of artists or academics. The synergy of the challenges of an urban environment and the university's mission and the dynamism that comes from that, with us maybe being a catalyst, moving into that equation, feels really good for me. [It] feels like a possible way to create the sustainable future. In other words, I think we all need to be thinking now, as we cross the millennium line, what sustainable elements are going to get us into the future. I really believe in this one. I mean, this is like an ideal situation. Here, you have a university with a president with a lot of innovative programs to take on these challenges of a depressed economy and a depressed ghetto area and revitalize it using the University as a tool. And for us to go into that atmosphere, I see us a bridge or a way to help out. DP: When you came earlier in the year to visit the site for the first time, what specific features most attracted you to it? Redford: The thing that really got me was the clear physical evidence of where the rubber meets the road in terms of a depressed area and the university experience. I mean, the University ran right up into a depressed area. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to relieve this depressed area and change it. And so for us, that space was right smack where those two met, and I thought that was really great for us, because we could draw from both. DP: You talked extensively about how you wanted to make the new complex a locus of the community and the school, and that's also one of President Rodin's goals. How do you see the Sundance Cinemas accomplishing that? Redford: By using art as a vehicle. Film is an extremely attractive medium; it attracts people from all walks of life. So, using that kind of magnet is kind of like a culture tool. We're going to treat film as a cultural experience rather than as a straight exhibition experience. [That] is what really puts us in the mix, where we can work with the University by having University programs work in the center -- by having programs involving the community itself outside the University, pulling them together. We help in being a bridge in [President Rodin's] effort. But it also satisfies our needs, too. If there was no Judith Rodin, we wouldn't be trying to do this. It's just [that] a lot of things come together around this particular site. DP: Did anyone in particular alert you to President Rodin's activities? Redford: That's what led to my call [to her in China last January]. First of all, I was aware of her work at Yale [where she was provost from 1992 to 1994].? I have a real interest in what universities are doing, what role are they going to play in the future -- are they going to accept responsibility for playing a role at all, or are they are going to stay frozen in some sort of ivory tower? I was aware of some of her forward-thinking ideas. Then, after she came [to Penn] and we were putting everything together and we were going around the country looking at various sites, looking at what was available to us what was possible, because we can't go wherever we want. You're running up against retailers that have a lot more money than you do, and retailers dominate a lot of real estate opportunities. I'm not interested in going into a mall. A mall is a last resort. Malls are about consumption, and we are about culture. I was just aware of her programs and when we were looking at the sites and they said there was a U. of Penn site showing up as a "maybe," I said, "Wow, that's great -- let's find out if the University would be interested in working with us." ? So I called her out of the blue; she was in China. She got me in China. She called me back from China. We had this conversation, this sort of jet-lagged conversation, and I said, "Look, I'm going to come and see you." And she said, "Great, come talk to us because it sounds like synergy." That's how it happened.

Redford, Penn officially unveil theater project

(10/05/98 9:00am)

Penn officials hope the new movie theater will revitalize 40th Street. It wasn't exactly a sting, but it took Robert Redford some effort to track down University President Judith Rodin last January while she was visiting China. He called her with a very decent proposal: Would Penn want to work with him in developing his new art-house theater chain? Although Rodin was surprised the movie legend had called her, she didn't have to consult her legal eagles to realize the match was a natural. On Friday, the actor-director-producer got up close and personal in Philadelphia for a press conference announcing that his company, Sundance Cinemas, will open a six-to-eight-screen theater like no other in the Hamilton Village shopping center at 40th and Walnut streets in early 2000. Although final plans for the more than 40,000-square-foot complex are far from complete, the facility will likely include a public meeting area, video "library," child-care center, restaurant, outdoor cafe, bar, art gallery, jazz club and rooms for filmmakers to edit their footage. "Most complexes are designed for consumption," said Redford, whose nascent chain is a joint venture with General Cinemas. "We're going to treat film as a cultural experience." As dozens of excited fans waited outside the Rotunda, a University-owned former church at 4012 Walnut Street, Redford joined Rodin and other officials inside to announce the deal. He repeatedly emphasized that Penn's efforts to spruce up the surrounding area were what brought him here to open one of his first theaters. Administrators hope that the addition of the movie theater, as well as a new specialty food market and parking garage, will make 40th Street a vibrant location for all University City residents. The 40th Street development, the new Sansom Common complex and other recent additions like the Eat at Joe's diner are part of Penn's broad plan to revitalize the area and increase foot traffic. The University and Sundance Cinemas will share the cost of the new project, although the exact price has not yet been determined. University and Sundance officials said construction on the new theater is scheduled to begin in January and finish a year later. Penn also plans to build a multi-story parking garage with a fresh food market on the ground floor on the northwest corner of the intersection at 40th and Walnut streets. Penn Executive Vice President John Fry announced at the press conference that Drexeline, a Philadelphia-area supermarket operator, would run the proposed store. No further details were immediately available, and Drexeline officials could not be reached for comment. The cinemas will occupy space mostly in the shopping center where United Artists Eric 3 operated until 1994. In addition, a "major element" of the theater will occupy the corner of the shopping center at 40th and Walnut streets where Burger King currently operates, Penn's top real estate official, Tom Lussenhop, said last month. It is unclear whether other retailers will be displaced. Sundance Cinemas will show independent, foreign and specialty films that have characterized the Redford-sponsored annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The press conference marked the first time Redford, 61, has officially announced the opening of a theater, although his chain is also preparing to begin construction on a theater in Portland, Ore., soon. During and after the event, Redford stressed how the new complex will go beyond a traditional theater chain, with an emphasis on building community relations and encouraging culture in the West Philadelphia area. Redford -- who filmed part of 1995's Up Close and Personal in Philadelphia -- said he wants the new complex to become a "locus of the community and the school." "This will not be an elitist situation," Redford said. "Students, minorities and others would all come to the space." Rodin's efforts at revitalizing the community surrounding the University are what initially attracted Redford, who said he has been aware of Rodin's activities since her days as Yale's provost. "You have a university president with a lot of innovative programs to take on the challenges of a depressed economy and a depressed ghetto area and revitalize it," Redford said. "If there was no Judith Rodin, we wouldn't be trying [the theater]." Rodin also praised Redford for being "a beacon for those of use who also like a different way of doing things." Redford said he learned that there was a site available on Penn's campus shortly after he began exploring the idea for the chain. He was immediately interested because of his respect for the University's president, leading him to call Rodin in China. Last spring, Redford traveled to Philadelphia in order to scout the site. He said its location between the campus and a "depressed area" increased his interest. "For us, [the site] was smack where the two met and I thought that was really great for us because we could draw from both," Redford said. Sundance Cinemas and the University signed a letter of intent in July and finalized terms over the next few months. The University's efforts to bring Sundance Cinemas to Penn had been impeded by a clause in the lease of Cinemagic, the campus' only movie theater since 1995. The clause gave owner Andrew Sheppard the right of first refusal over any new cinemas on campus. Sheppard had long been unwilling to relinquish that right, but Lussenhop said last month that "the situation had been resolved amicably and equitably." Sheppard did not return repeated calls for comment. Redford said he wants to use film as a "magnet" in order to bring members of the University community and Philadelphia residents together. As part of this goal, the complex will set aside space exclusively for community use. Rodin said she hopes the new complex will follow in the footsteps of the Kelly Writers House in serving both students and Philadelphia community members. General Cinemas President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Doeren, who also attended the press conference, said the theater will be "very sensitive to the pricing issue" to ensure that no one is excluded from participating in the complex's activities. Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who represents West Philadelphia, and Mayor Ed Rendell also participated in Friday's press conference. Redford is one of the film industry's most respected and influential figures. He has starred in The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- the film for which the chain is named -- and won an Oscar for directing 1980's Ordinary People. The movie chain is the latest manifestation of Redford's interest in independent films. In 1979, Redford founded the Sundance Institute as an organization to help develop independent films. But Redford decided he wanted to have a showcase for filmmakers to show their work. He bought the U.S. Film Festival and renamed it the Sundance Film Festival in 1984. Redford wanted to make the content at the Festival available to a broader audience, so he launched the Sundance Channel -- a cable station showing independent films -- in 1996.

Redford, U. to announce theater deal tomorrow

(10/01/98 9:00am)

The director will visit campus to announce a deal for a new theater on 40th Street, a source confirmed. The Sundance Kid, Robert Redford, will ride into Philadelphia tomorrow to announce that Sundance Cinemas, his art-house movie theater chain, will open a site on Penn's campus, a person with close knowledge of the trip confirmed yesterday. At a press conference in a yet-to-be-determined location tomorrow afternoon, Redford will announce that he has reached a deal with the University to build the theater in the Hamilton Village shopping center at 40th and Walnut streets, the source said. Previously, Penn officials have said the theater will have about eight screens and open in early 2000. University spokesperson Ken Wildes, as well as Creative Artists Agency in California and the office of New York-based publicist Lois Smith -- who represent Redford -- could not be reached for comment last night. The theater would be among the first for Sundance Cinemas, a joint venture between Redford and the General Cinemas chain. Sundance Cinemas is also preparing to begin construction on a theater in Portland, Ore., soon, according to Brian Callahan, a General Cinemas spokesperson. The movie theater will also have a bar and possibly a restaurant, Tom Lussenhop, the University's top real estate official, said earlier this month. Redford, 61, is one of the film industry's most respected and influential figures. He has starred in The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- the film for which the chain is named -- and won an Oscar for directing 1980's Ordinary People. His Sundance Institute operates the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, a well-known launching pad for independent filmmakers. He visited campus about five months ago to scout the site. The Sundance Cinemas will primarily occupy space in the Hamilton Village shopping center where United Artists Eric 3 operated until 1994, Lussenhop has said. In addition, a "major element" of the theater will occupy the corner of the shopping center ar 40th and Walnut streets where Burger King currently operates, Lussenhop said earlier this month. Administrators hope the addition of the movie theater, as well as the construction of a specialty food market and parking garage on the northwest corner of 40th and Walnut streets, will make 40th Street a vibrant attraction for all University City residents. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported last Friday that Redford would visit the University late this week or early next week. Yesterday, on the front page of its City & Region section, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Redford would come to Penn tomorrow to announce the deal, citing a Redford spokesperson.

Shula's 2 opens in U. City Sheraton

(09/29/98 9:00am)

The popular steakhouse is owned by Don Shula, the NFL coach with the most wins ever. For sports fans, it's a tough choice: do you watch the big baseball playoff game or Monday Night Football? If you had 84 television sets, like the new Shula's Steak 2 restaurant, it wouldn't be a problem -- you could see both and chomp on a steak at the same time. More than 400 people, including Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and numerous University officials, joined legendary pro football coach Don Shula last night at the Penn-owned Sheraton University City hotel for the restaurant's official opening. The event also raised money for Eagles Fly for Leukemia and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Shula said he decided to enter the restaurant business about a decade ago because it reminded him of coaching football. He retired from the game in 1995 with 347 wins, the most in National Football League history. "As a coach, you want to win every game," Shula said in an interview last week. "In a restaurant, you want to win every meal." "Management, motivation and attention to detail are important to coaching and important to restaurants," the 68-year-old added. Guests, who paid $100 each to attend the benefit, entered the spacious restaurant -- located in the former Smart Alex space at 36th and Chestnut streets -- through a ballroom arch in the shape of a goalpost. Once they got inside, they could not miss seeing one of the TVs -- many of them big-screen -- that lined the walls of the eatery and hung from the ceiling. Some screens glowed with images of football's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, while the rest showed the Chicago Cubs battling the San Francisco Giants for a spot in the baseball playoffs. When not watching the games, party attendees examined the extensive collection of sports memorabilia displayed on the restaurant's walls. A pair of Willie Mays' cleats, a basketball signed by former Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving, a jersey autographed by Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling and signed pictures of everyone from Rosie O'Donnell to Tommy Lasorda were among the items that adorned the walls. Waiters circulated throughout the room with trays of stuffed potato skins, onion rings and chicken fingers. Party guests also enjoyed roast beef, shrimp, pasta, mini-cheesesteaks, fruit and cheese at stations located throughout the restaurant. To wash all the food down, patrons took advantage of a large bar located along the restaurant's north wall. Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history and a Football Hall of Fame inductee, opened his first restaurant in his hometown of Miami Lakes, Fla., almost 10 years ago. Since then, he has opened eleven other restaurants in cities across the country, including Miami Beach; Tampa, Fla.; Indianapolis; Baltimore; and Cleveland. But Shula said his newest restaurant had a special place in his heart since it was in the city where his Miami Dolphins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to give Shula his record-breaking 325th victory. The ball from that game, as well as the ball from Shula's final game in 1995 as the coach of the Dolphins, are on display in the restaurant. But Shula has not rested on his laurels since retiring from football. In addition to opening his chain of restaurants, he was part of one of the ownership groups that unsuccessfully bid for the new Cleveland Browns franchise. Even though he is not directly involved, Shula still keeps up with the NFL. He said that professional football "is more popular than it has ever been," but that "free agency has hurt the game some."