Thursday, October 09, 2003

Destination: Reading Terminal

Posted on Thu, Oct. 09, 2003

Destination: Reading Terminal
Promoting the market, Gallery and train station together would define the area.

By Bruce Andersen

On Sept. 10, a historic marker was dedicated for the Reading Terminal Market. As a historic railroad city, Philadelphia joins New York and others in recognizing and preserving their railroad landmarks.

Although it's terrific that Penn Station in New York and Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Headhouse are celebrated, in Philadelphia such recognition masks a problem: Not enough is being done to integrate the attractions that Center City has to offer. Poor integration of the Market East portion of Center City stems from a lack of identity for this region; there's nothing that binds everything together. As writer Gertrude Stein once said, "There is no there there."

Anyone who has played Monopoly has heard of the Reading Railroad, but Market East lacks distinct identity. Part of this rootlessness results from the state of the rail station beneath Market East. The Market East Station is a prime example of how a poorly maintained transit station affects everything around it. SEPTA, inheritor of the Reading Railroad legacy, does not use that legacy to its benefit. Many people don't use SEPTA because of its poor image, not necessarily because of the quality of its service. The station should be given a makeover and a name change and be integrated into its surroundings.

The Reading Terminal Headhouse at 12th and Market Streets is a beautiful building that from 1893 until 1984 was a portal for Philadelphia's visitors. Why can't we have that again?

The Headhouse was renovated to make a symbolic public entrance to the Convention Center. It is integrated into the elements around it, but why stop there? Why not integrate it fully into the whole Market East and Center City district? SEPTA uses 30th Street Station and Suburban Station as names - so why not Reading Terminal Station?

Changing the name of the Market East Station to the Reading Terminal Station would tie the station to its history and better promote the businesses there. Changing the name better defines the area as a destination. "I'll see you at the Reading Terminal," could become a catchphrase.

A little marketing could go a long way in making a Reading Terminal "destination." Eliminate the doughnut shop and install a display highlighting railroad history. Develop better partnerships between the station and the businesses at the Gallery at Market East or Reading Terminal Market.

The Gallery and Market East Station were built with the idea that they would spur development along that stretch of Market Street, but Market East never really took off in the public eye. Part of the problem is that the redeveloped Headhouse, intended to provide access to the Market East Station and the Gallery and from the Marriott Hotel to the Convention Center, was renovated with no attention to what lay beneath.

The station itself could use a face-lift and the corridors along the southern side of Market Street could be made more hospitable. If Loew's Hotel could be encouraged to unbrick the entrances to the hotel from the corridors, and Lord & Taylor to decorate the empty windows underground, the atmosphere of the station would be improved. Market East Station signage is poor and the station is unfriendly; SEPTA should work to promote ease of access to the station and increase the use of public transit by people who work in the area.

As Philadelphia plans for its future, it should also try to protect its history and promote its railroad legacy. SEPTA is a major player in what happens in Center City. If the Market East Station, the Convention Center, and the businesses at the Gallery better promoted their proximity to one another, everyone would benefit. Make the Reading Terminal a destination, and it becomes at the same time a starting point to the other great things that Center City has to offer.

Bruce Andersen lives and writes in Philadelphia.


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