Detention hall site to be art collection’s new home in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Inquirer

December 15, 2004

By Patricia Horn

One day after receiving court permission to relocate its renowned art gallery from Merion to Center City, the Barnes Foundation learned yesterday exactly where it would be moving: to the site of the Youth Study Center, a juvenile detention hall on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 20th and 21st Streets.

Mayor Street told a packed room at City Hall that the city would move the center’s current residents and staff to another site in North Philadelphia and demolish the center so the Barnes could start construction by the end of 2005.

On Monday, Montgomery County Orphans’ Court Judge Stanley Ott gave the financially struggling Barnes permission to deviate from the instructions left by its founder, Albert C. Barnes, so it could move the multibillion-dollar art collection from its suburban location to a more-accessible site along the Parkway. The ruling culminated more than two years of litigation.

City Commerce Director Stephanie Naidoff said the mayor made his final decision on the new site Monday night and announced it yesterday so Barnes board president Bernard Watson could attend. Watson was flying out of town later yesterday, she said.

“In my judgment this is a huge, important advance for us in our city,” Street said. “We have over the years continued to grow into a world-class place, and this is just an enormous step in that direction.”

The choice of the Youth Study Center allayed fears that the Barnes might build on another site it had considered: the Von Colln Memorial Field, which includes two ballfields and a playground.

That site had several factors working in its favor, including closer proximity to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, more room nearby for parking, and no existing building to tear down.

It also does not have a 100-year-old brick sewer pipe running under it, as the Youth Study Center does — a potential construction complication.

In addition, because a replacement for the Youth Study Center, planned for West Philadelphia, won’t be ready until October 2007, the center’s current residents will need to be housed at the Cambria Community Center in North Philadelphia — which is already occupied by 159 prisoners. The city has not found a new home for those inmates yet.

Neighborhood opposition to building on the ballfields, however, would have made it a difficult choice politically.

Instead, the new Barnes will be right next to the Central Library, which itself is raising money for a $ 130 million overhaul of its headquarters. The library hopes to break ground on the improvements and a 160,000-square-foot addition in the spring of 2006.

The new Barnes also will be next door to the Rodin Museum and across the street from the Franklin Institute. It will be nearly directly across the Parkway from the proposed Alexander Calder Museum.

“Well, you know I am happy,” said Happy Fernandez, president of the Moore College of Art and Design, another Parkway tenant. “Frankly, it is wonderful for Moore. We are an educational institution. I was talking to one of my alums, class of ’38, and she used to take public transportation out to the Barnes to take a course. So it is great for our students.”

It was unclear whether the city would donate the Youth Study Center site to the Barnes, sell it at below-market rates, or lease it.

“We don’t have all the details,” Naidoff said. “We have just begun the process, and we intend to give them the land. We are not sure exactly what that means.”

In other cases along the Parkway, the city typically keeps title to the land and leases it to the organization that uses it, said Robert Nix III, chairman of the Fairmount Park Commission, which manages Parkway land. He said the commission’s first preference for the Barnes also would be for a long-term lease arrangement.

Another detail that remains to be worked out, Naidoff said, is who will pay the demolition costs. Those were estimated at $ 2.2 million by Perks Reutter Associates, which did an analysis of the two possible sites for the Barnes.

A major construction complication could be that old sewer pipe, buried 25 feet deep, which Harry Perks of Perks Reutter recommended staying in place.

“This pipe is buried in a trench that is carved out of rock like a tunnel,” he said. “It would be very easy to design a footprint for the building that would go around it.” The city Water Department said no one had talked with it about moving the pipe.

Perks said the study he did for the Barnes did not include any plans for underground parking — or any parking whatsoever.

The building, he said, would not have a deep basement because there is only 15 feet of dirt over 10 feet of rock.

Perks estimated that the new Barnes could be built for $ 60 million, with an additional $ 40 million needed for such things as demolition, furniture, architectural fees, and other costs. The estimate did not include any costs for excavation of rock; Mark Celoni, vice president and civil engineer for Pennoni Associates Inc., said excavating rock could cost 10 times more than excavating soil.

But Maxine Griffith, executive director of the City Planning Commission, said her office’s study of the site and the sewer line running underneath suggested that the new Barnes could straddle the pipe.

“We did the due diligence. It is doable. It was not something that would be an impediment to development,” she said.

Naidoff said issues such as the sewer pipe would “have to wait for an architect to be in place and to evaluate all the options.”

Perks said the new building would be set back on the site because the city wants the tree-lined view of the Parkway from City Hall to the Art Museum to remain unobstructed.

“I estimated that there could be a facility of 120,000 to 150,000 square feet, built at $ 400 to $ 500 per square foot,” Perks said. “The museum that is going to be replicated is only 28,000 square feet. If you are talking 120,0000, I think it is reasonable to have a comfort level that you can replicate the museum and the education and the administration facility. It is almost four times.”

Rebecca Rimel, president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which along with two other foundations has promised to help raise $ 150 million for the project and to establish an endowment, said fund-raising would resume in earnest after the first of the year.

No new donors called her yesterday, she said.

“We are back in business. My phone is working. So is Dr. Watson’s,” Rimel said.

She said Gov. Rendell, who supported the Barnes proposal to move, had not yet made a pledge of state support, but she would be “happy to take his call.”

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Center expansion being held hostage; Governor is shooting us, and himself, in the foot by delaying funds

Philadelphia Daily News

October 25, 2004

Page 15

THE PENNSYLVANIA Convention Center is once again being held hostage.

This is not exactly news for a building that must have an invisible “kidnap me” sign painted on its roof. This time, it’s not the unions that are imperiling the center’s potential by alienating customers and staging walkouts, as they have in the past.

This time, the hostage-taker is Gov. Rendell, who earlier this week said that although the Legislature has approved money for expansion of the Convention Center – $632 million that will be covered by both capital budget and gaming revenues – he’s not writing any checks until the center gets “professional management.”

Translation: Get rid of the center’s chief executive, Al Mezzaroba, a political appointee with no track record in the industry.

In any other state, and in any other town, this might not appear so unreasonable. The center expansion will make it one of the biggest in the country, and given the absence of industry pros on the board of directors, building the bench strength on the operations side is a good idea. So why are we calling this hostage-taking?

Let us count the ways:

1. The center just hired a roster of convention center pros, among them: Dittie Guise, who presided over the expansion of the Columbus, Ohio, convention center, and Harry Perks, who was the center’s first executive director and who helped build the original and who has been hired to oversee the expansion project.

2. The governor has not said exactly what skills are missing from the team, and what’s at stake if we don’t get them. Not that Mezzaroba, who is there by dint of political connections, is the best CEO for the job. But if the CEO job is a political placeholder, then who would be better?

Nor has the governor acknowledged that the current team has, in fact, successfully steered the center through a tough and complicated chapter, and despite a history of the worst kind of strife, is poised to expand.

3. It smells bad. Fumo foe John Dougherty, electrician’s union head, has repeatedly called for Mezzaroba’s head; in the next breath, he talks about his alliance with the governor. Does the governor want Mezzaroba ousted to make Dougherty happy? In that case, it’s a political move, using the ultimate political hammer. That doesn’t seem like depoliticizing the center to us.

4. It costs more. The expansion relies on a tight timeline of property acquisition, demolition and construction. Delays in finding a new CEO will cost more taxpayer money.

Delays will also cost more customers, many of whom are waiting to book in a bigger center.

5. It looks bad. This is the most important reason why this hostage-taking is ill-timed. The center doesn’t need yet another public melodrama to turn people away, especially on the eve of an expensive expansion designed to attract even bigger clients.

We put this reason last on purpose; unfortunately, too many people involved in the center put customers last as a matter of course. The governor’s action is a message to customers that once again, they come last, and that the center can’t get out of its own way to keep its eye on what’s really important: customers, who book the center and help keep the economic engine that is the center running.

Sure, we know money is power. Rendell has the money, so he’s got the power. But it’s not just the building being held hostage. It’s the future of the city, the region, and everyone in it.

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For him, it’s the little details that count

Courier-Post

May 2, 1993

When Harry Perks, executive director of the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, gives visitors a tour of the Convention Center, he is flush with pride.

The facility is the second-largest convention center on the East Coast (only the Jacob K. Javits center in New York is larger). It covers all of two city blocks and part of another two – 1.4 million square feet in all, a quarter of which is exhibit space.

Yet Perks, an engineer by training, finds himself marveling at the vast Convention center’s little things.

“That’s what we’re so proud of is the details. Convention centers were always like gymnasiums before. This is more like upper-level hotels,” said Perks. “Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas (convention centers) are bigger, but we’ve got quality.”

He points out the polished-granite floors, limestone pillars and “cathedral quality” of the concourse area.

“Come in here,” he tells visitors, leading them into a restroom. “It’s beautiful,” he says, pointing to a marble vanity and intricately tiled walls. “You won’t see this anywhere else.”

But as proud as he is of the finer points, it is really the massive banquet and exhibit halls that are the meat of the Convention Center, Perks says.

The main exhibit hall, on an upper floor spanning two full blocks, is the size of seven football fields. It has a ramp and doors big enough to admit tractor-trailers full of exhibition goods. It’s perfect for a car show or a Mummers parade.

The main exhibit hall is 440,000-square feet, placing it among the top 10 convention centers in the country. (There is also another 300,000-square-feet of exhibition space elsewhere in the Convention Center.)

It has modern amenities, too: Exhibit hook-ups provide telephone, electricity, water, air conditioning and other utilities.

“I don’t care if you’re selling swimming pools, you can do it in here,” Perks says.

Elsewhere in the Convention Center, there are smaller banquet and conference rooms, a 600-seat theater and a kitchen, which will be run by 300 employees at peak. Parts of the Convention Center, including a 55,000-square-foot grand hall, won’t be completed until next year.

Next door, the Reading Terminal Market, which has been absorbed by the Convention center and refurbished at a cost of $12 million, gives conventioneers a wide selection of lunch counters, produce dealers, delis, ice cream shops and the like.

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