Bart Blatstein says the casino isn’t the most intriguing part of his planned North Broad development. What he’s most jazzed about is going on the roof. While Blatstein’s proposed casino on North Broad Street faces a lot of hurdles: Will city politicians rally behind him, or some other potential developer? For that matter, who will be the casino operator? And will the state legislature even allow Philadelphia to keep its currently unused license for a second casino? But Blatstein’s momentum may pick up, shortly after he publicly unveils drawings in several weeks for the most intriguing and ambitious part of his plan: a “rooftop village.”
“It will be spec-tac-u-lar,” says Blatstein, crisply enunciating every syllable. “I want to create something here, separate from the casino, where people will feel transported to a whole other place.”
From some other developer, this might all sound a little too fantastical. But after putting a European-style piazza in Northern Liberties, Blatstein is working in rarefied air, both literally and figuratively. His newest concept takes a little explaining. But in short, about 60 feet off the ground, on rooftops extending from about a third of the way along the 1400 block of Callowhill, all the way to 16th Street, Blatstein plans to erect a “village reminiscent of old Europe.” Here’s an early plan (we’ve added the detail about where the village will be):
Crooked and meandering streets will weave through a collection of one- and two-story buildings housing small shops, cafes and restaurants. The Village will be connected by a “sky bridge” traveling across North 15th Street. “You know how you see, in nature shows, in rain forests, scientists can go up into the canopy of the forest and find a whole different ecosystem?” asks Blatstein. “That’s sort of the concept, only what you’ll find here will be like Europe. With the buildings around you, you really will feel not like you’re on a roof, but like you’re in a village.”
The basic footprint of Blatstein’s planned rooftop village is 80,000 square feet, but that figure doesn’t include the square footage belonging to the upper floors of any buildings he constructs there. “It’s big enough, and the streets will meander enough, to feel like seeing it all requires exploration,” he says.
If all of this isn’t bold and ambitious enough for you, Blatstein calls the development an “all-weather” attraction because it will include a retractable glass roof. When the weather is hospitable, the roof will retract. But in bitter temperatures or rain, the roof will be closed. Blatstein’s rooftop village will be the closest thing to a biosphere a casino development can leverage.
In terms of square footage, Blatstein estimates the casino would take up about 15 percent of the entertainment complex. Further, people with no interest in the casino would be able to enter the rooftop village without ever setting foot in the gambling hall. (One point of entry will come from the street—possibilities include a massive escalator system—the other from the hotel in the Inquirer building.) But Blatstein insists the casino is integral, in an economic sense.
“It’s a seven day a week attraction,” he says, “and it will help support this very ambitious plan. I’m very serious about this. I want this to be a jewel for the city.”
Bart Blatstein’s Broad Street
A rundown of Blatstein’s latest acquisitions and his plans for them.
Broad and Spring Garden
What’s There Now? The old state office building
What Is Blatstein Building? The state office building will undergo $120 million in alterations to produce 400 residential units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space.
Broad and Callowhill to 15th Street
What’s There Now? The Inquirer building
What Is Blatstein Building? The 18-story tower portion of the Inquirer will be converted to a hotel. The squat back side of the building will be destroyed and made into a parking garage. The first portion of Blatstein’s village will sit on the rooftop.
1500 to 1600 Callowhill
What’s There Now? A parking garage
What Is Blatstein Building? The parking garage will be razed and replaced with a two-story development, 60 feet high. The first floor will house an approximately 55,000-square-foot casino. The second floor will house entertainment and concert facilities, with a terrific view of the Center City skyline. The greater portion of Blatstein’s “village” will crown this building. The two sides will be joined by a skybridge crossing 15th Street.
1600 to 1700 Callowhill
What’s There Now? A parking garage
What Is Blatstein Building? Here, he’s keeping the parking garage. This block will also be connected to the other blocks by another sky bridge.