This edition of the Developments e-newsletter comes at a challenging and unprecedented time. While many are sending helpful, industry-specific updates, we have tried to keep our focus broadly on Center City, including the impacts and various responses to coronavirus, resources for businesses about available assistance and news about some of the Philadelphia businesses and organizations working to assist and adapt during these uncertain times.
As you will read below, CCD is still operating and while it is quite early in this crisis, we are already considering the role we can play in the recovery on our sidewalks, in our parks and in the restoration of business and civic activity when the “all clear” signal is given. Your suggestions and ideas are welcome – get in touch anytime via email to JoAnn Loviglio, Director of Communications and Publications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or email Paul R. Levy directly at email@example.com.
Center City District Operations Update
In keeping with the City of Philadelphia’s order, Center City District’s administrative offices are closed. Nearly all of our office staff is working remotely, routinely checking email and voicemail and responding to questions that need immediate answers. Our finance and accounting staff receive mail, process invoices and transact essential business. Senior staff gathers daily on a conference call.
Given the number of essential personnel still working in Center City and significant numbers who live in the District, we are continuing our sidewalk cleaning operations (waste collection) and our Community Service Representatives (security/public safety), as essential services that are part of our core mission to provide clean and safe public sidewalks and spaces in Center City. Yesterday, we began our seasonal pressure washing, cleaning and sanitizing walkways and street furniture. We continue provide outreach to the homeless, connecting them to food, services and shelter off the street.
We have put in place extra procedures and safety provisions for all CCD on-street staff, staggered starting times, and are reinforcing guidance about preserving “social distance.” We are providing on-street employees with lunches as a gesture of gratitude for their dedication and to ensure all have easy access to meals as many food establishments in the downtown have closed. For the first two weeks, we were able to rely on lunches prepared daily by our catering service, Brûlée. Since they no longer are operating, we have switched to the same service provided by Wawa.
Dilworth Park, Cret Park and Sister Cities Park will remain accessible to the public. Collins Park is closed at this time. All CCD park cafés and café restrooms are closed to the public, as are indoor and outdoor park seating areas.
We will continue to follow guidelines and recommendations from national, state and city authorities and we will adjust our plans accordingly as conditions change. Many of our peers in the major cities across the United States are also continuing to operate and we are continuing to compare ideas and responses. Updates and resources for businesses and workers will be posted on our website.
Our website also includes a running list of Center City retailers and restaurants offering online shopping, gift cards, takeout, delivery and virtual classes. To help support our local businesses, click below for the list, which will be continually updated as conditions change.
Center City Crime Trends Update
While the Philadelphia Police Department reported citywide crime levels trending downward since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, CCD used the same open data sources to confirm similar trends within both the boundaries of the CCD and the 6th and 9th Police Districts (Poplar to Lombard streets, river to river). In the week during which social distancing measures started (March 12), schools closed (March 13) and foot traffic on the sidewalks dropped, serious crimes within the CCD fell by 25%. As closures expanded in the following week, serious crimes fell an additional 20%. Crime in the broader area covered by the 6th and 9th Police Districts fell by 12% the first week and an additional 21% the next week.
$2T Federal Stimulus Package Signed into Law
A sweeping stimulus package to shore up the nation’s economy has been signed into law. In a matter of weeks, it will send direct payments of $1,200 to individuals earning up to $75,000, with smaller payments to those with incomes of up to $99,000 and an additional $500 per child. It will substantially expand jobless aid, providing an additional 13 weeks and a four-month enhancement of benefits — including an extra $600 per week — and extend it to freelancers and gig workers. The package also suspends all federal student loan payments through September without accruing interest.
The measure will provide $377 billion in federally guaranteed loans to small businesses struggling under the strain of the crisis, establish a $500 billion government lending program for distressed companies, and send $100 billion to hospitals on the front lines of the pandemic.
PIDC, City Launch $9M Fund For Small Business Relief
The City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) have launched a $9 million grant and loan program for small businesses affected by widespread business closures mandated in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund was created to help businesses meet payroll obligations and preserve jobs, offering grants and zero interest loans for businesses with less than $5 million in annual revenue.
The program has three tiers: microenterprise grants of $5,000 for businesses with less than $500,000 in annual revenue; small business grants of up to $25,000 for businesses with annual revenue from $500,000 to $3 million; and small business zero-interest loans of up to $100,000 for businesses with annual revenue from $3 million to $5 million.
Pa. Unveils $100M Coronavirus Small Business Relief Fund
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced a $100 million COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program has been established to provide loans up to $100,000 for businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees.
The loans can cover costs associated with operations in the three months prior to the statewide shutdown. Retail and service enterprises can include six months of capital costs in their loan applications.
City Extends Tax Filing Deadlines
Deadlines for tax payments are also extended due to the impact of the coronavirus. Businesses can file their Business Income and Receipts Tax (BIRT) and the net profits tax until July 15. Commercial and residential property owners who are unable to pay their real estate tax by March 31 will have the deadline extended to April 30. The deadline to apply for an installment plan for the real estate tax is April 30.
City, Businesses, Foundations Create Fund For Local Nonprofits
The City of Philadelphia, businesses and philanthropic foundations have established a fund to support local nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic. The PHL COVID-19 Fund will distribute money to nonprofit organizations with a track record of helping at-risk groups such as seniors, people with disabilities, the economically disadvantaged and people experiencing homelessness.
The fund has already raised $6.4 million from dozens of organizations like the Lenfest Foundation, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Independence Blue Cross, including a $3 million gift from the William Penn Foundation. Bill Golderer, CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and Pedro A. Ramos, CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation, will serve as co-directors for the initiative.
Comcast CEO Donates $5M To Philadelphia Schools For Laptops
Comcast Corporation CEO Brian Roberts, his wife Aileen and their family are donating $5 million for the Philadelphia public school system to buy laptops so students can start being taught remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike more affluent school systems, the School District of Philadelphia hasn't been able to shift to online learning since roughly half of its students don't have access to either a computer or internet connection.
The donation to the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia will support the purchase of 50,000 Chromebooks, which will be distributed alongside 40,000 laptops already in school buildings. The computers will be distributed April 13-17. Meanwhile, schools will prepare the laptops and train teachers to support remote learning.
Eds & Meds News
Jefferson Opens Mobile Testing Site In Center City
Jefferson Health has opened a mobile-testing site on the surface parking lot at 10th and Sansom streets across from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Jefferson patients with a physician-ordered test can either walk or drive up to the site, which is designed to facilitate fast and effective testing while helping to control infection and limit patients from entering enclosed care spaces such as crowded emergency rooms. Non-Thomas Jefferson clients can connect via the JeffConnect online portal and app to talk with a doctor and schedule a test if needed.
The tests are being conducted out of Jefferson's CoLab Philadelphia Airstream trailer parked at the site. Tents and chairs have been set up for patients to wait while maintaining social distance.
Penn Researchers Working On At-Home Test For COVID-19
University of Pennsylvania researchers are helping develop an at-home test that would detect COVID-19 in less than an hour, without any special equipment. Called a nucleic acid test, it can detect the virus directly through its genetic material, and its developers say the results should be ready to interpret within an hour.
The technology is being developed by Connecticut-based 4Catalyzer, a medical technology incubator known for inventing a portable ultrasound machine. Penn’s labs are involved because researchers there have the capacity to work with the virus itself, and they can compare the new technology’s accuracy with the gold standard test used in labs.
UCity Firm Joins Effort To Develop COVID-19 Vaccine
Philadelphia biotech firm Integral Molecular has joined the effort to develop potential vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19. Researchers are working to gain a better understanding of the human immune response to the virus, and to identify the cellular receptors that show how the virus has been able to spread so quickly.
Integral Molecular responded in a similar fashion to the Zika, Ebola and Chikungunya virus outbreaks by supporting vaccine and therapeutic discovery efforts throughout industry and academia. Founded in 2001, Integral Molecular last year expanded its presence in University City with its opening of a 26,000-square-foot research site at 3624 Market Street.
Penn Medicine Tool Helps Hospitals With COVID-19 Planning
The Predictive Healthcare team at Penn Medicine has developed and released an open-source tool to help hospitals plan for patient increases and intake as coronavirus cases rise. The tool, COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics (CHIME), uses modeling that computes the theoretical number of people infected with a contagious illness in a closed population over time to predict outcomes.
It’s currently set up to help Penn’s operational leaders with up-to-date projections of what additional resources will be required, and estimates of how many patients will need hospitalization, ICU beds and mechanical ventilation. The tool is currently set up to serve Penn Medicine, but because it’s open source, it could be modified for each health care center’s specific population.
Penn Medicine Steps Up Construction Of New Hospital
Penn Medicine is moving up its construction schedule to open part of a new hospital tower in University City earlier than scheduled, in an effort to help with an expected influx of coronavirus patients. The facility would open 119 hospital beds across the street from the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
The rooms are expected to be ready by mid-April – 15 months ahead of the facility’s planned opening. Penn Medicine said it has been working with Gov. Tom Wolf's office and the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council to expedite construction while ensuring the safety of workers.
Old City Startup’s Wireless Stethoscope In Clinical Trials
A Philadelphia medical device company has developed a product that could assist with health care workers’ growing coronavirus caseload while reducing physical contact between patients and providers during the pandemic.
Strados Labs, based in Old City, is the creator of a wireless stethoscope currently in clinical trials that can record patient lung sounds for transmittal to telehealth workers and to digital clinician portals where they can be accessed at any time. The company is working with federal regulators to get an expedited review by the Food and Drug Administration.
Toy Maker Shifts To Making Hand Sanitizer Amid Coronavirus Crisis
A Norristown toy maker has shifted its manufacturing operations to address a shortage of hand sanitizer due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Crazy Aaron's is making 1,500 gallons per day of hand sanitizer for first responders, health care and municipal workers and others on the front lines of the crisis in the Norristown and Philadelphia communities.
The company normally produces Thinking Putty, a silicone-based product that can be twisted, stretched and molded and does not dry out. As the coronavirus crisis grew, the company’s engineering team changed over their production line to produce hand sanitizer and obtained the necessary government approvals to do so. The company teamed up with Five Saints Distilling, located about four blocks away, to provide additional supplies of alcohol needed for the sanitizer.
Where Will Coronavirus-Fueled Downturns Be Most Felt?
Noting the dramatic decrease in consumer spending due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Brookings Institution notes that “as recession forecasts proliferate, it’s not necessarily true that all areas will be hit equally hard ... the economic toll of any coming recession will hit different regions in disparate, uneven ways.”
The analysis first defines the employment geography of five vulnerable sectors: mining/oil and gas, transportation, employment services, travel arrangements, and leisure and hospitality. Then it maps those industries’ presence as a share of the economy within the nation’s metropolitan areas.
Brookings found that the most vulnerable metro area nationwide is the oil-and-gas town of Midland, Texas, with 42% of its workforce in high-risk industries. Other major energy producers such as Odessa and Laredo, Texas, as well as Houma-Thibodaux, La., also land in the top 10 most likely to be severely affected.
Kahului, Hawaii; Atlantic City, N.J.; and Las Vegas all fall into the top five most recession-vulnerable metro areas, each with more than a third of their workforce in industries threatened by coronavirus-related uncertainties. Other vulnerable tourist destinations include Ocean City, N.J.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama. The diversity of Philadelphia’s economy keeps us fortunately lower on this list.
Residential Market News
New CCD/CPDC Housing Report: Strong Fundamentals (Interrupted)
CCD/CPDC today is releasing our annual housing report, Greater Center City Housing 2020: Strong Fundamentals (Interrupted), which describes market conditions prior to the current crisis. It benchmarks trends at the end of 2019. Many things have changed. However, we are releasing the report because it documents strong underlying fundamentals that will enable Greater Center City and all of Philadelphia to rebound when recovery comes. We have many strengths to build on, but remaining challenges to address. Our research, graphics and communications team completed this report while working remotely and communicating daily.
(link to report on website)
Reading Terminal Market Sees Deliveries Rise 30-Fold
Delivery orders at Reading Terminal Market have increased 30-fold since the local emergence of the coronavirus, prompting expansion of the historic site's fulfillment center to accommodate the booming demand. The market went from filling about 50 delivery orders per day through its online Mercato platform to 1,500 daily orders in recent days, after all nonessential businesses in Philadelphia were ordered to close and restaurant dine-in service was prohibited.
The delivery platform is keeping the market's vendors in business at a time when restaurants citywide grapple with daunting economic challenges. Reading Terminal Market remains open for walk-in business, but has seen a dramatic reduction in foot traffic due to the impacts of COVID-19.
Local Startup Helps Local Restaurants Launch Delivery
A Philadelphia startup that helps power food delivery service is rolling out a new platform that can help local restaurants while coronavirus temporarily shuts down dining in. Habitat Logistics, launched in 2015 by four Temple University students and based in Center City, has partnered with lead-generation companies like Delivery.com to drive more orders to participating restaurants.
The technology also integrates third-party food delivery services like Grubhub into the system to streamline the takeout process. Any restaurant can now sign up on the Habitat platform. The company currently works with about 150 restaurants in the area.
Arts & Culture News
Shuttered Cultural Attractions Explore Digital Alternatives
Cultural institutions have also closed in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. Many are working to create new ways to reach their audiences. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation and the Independence Seaport Museum are among the organizations now offering virtual programming and online tours.
The Museum of the American Revolution’s website, which features a virtual museum tour with 360-degree imagery, online field trips and digital text archives, has seen the number of new users increase 165% from March 2-9 to March 10-17 and a virtual field trip page has seen page views increasing more than 371% in that time frame.
PHLCVB Strategizes For Post-Pandemic Return Of Conventions
With the city’s calendar of large-scale conventions canceled through most of May due to travel restrictions and tourism has dropped off as well, many Center City hotels are closing, while some are converting to interim use for quarantined patients. The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB) has shifted its focus to stimulating foreign travel to Philadelphia once the pandemic is under control.
When coronavirus is reined in, PHLCVB plans to work with its international rep firms to spread messaging via social media, digital and print platforms, and marketing methods aimed at encouraging travel back to Philadelphia.
DRPA Bridges Temporarily Go Cashless Amid Pandemic
In an effort to reduce person-to-person contact and help limit the spread of COVID-19, the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) initiated all-electronic, cashless bridge tolls starting March 26 and continuing until further notice. All motorists crossing the Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry bridgs will be directed to travel through designated E-ZPass lanes.
No toll collectors will be present nor will cash be accepted in any lane.
Parks & Public Space News
Crisis Reinforces The Importance Of Parks In City Life
In two columns this week examining the challenges of our current reality through the lens of history and the urban environment, Inga Saffron of The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that our civic commons are often taken for granted but serve a crucial role in the life of the city.
She concludes in a March 23 piece, “As bad as things are, try to imagine what life would be right now without our parks. Before this crisis, we took our parks for granted. They were something that was always there, and, as a result, we’ve underfunded them for decades. Now it turns out we need our parks like we need food: for basic survival. When the virus passes — and it will — let’s remember it was our parks that enabled us to endure this crisis.”
Saffron’s column on March 18 describes how the aftermath of 1793’s yellow fever epidemic spurred Philadelphia to build one of the nation’s first water treatment plants at the site where City Hall now stands, and that the 1918 influenza epidemic prompted city zoning codes to ensure new housing had ample light and air circulation, as well as helping to inspire the City Beautiful movement and the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Free Library and the Franklin Institute.
“As chilling as COVID-19’s viral assault has become, it’s almost certain that cities will adapt again. The empty sidewalks in Center City may make it feel as if Philadelphia has become a city without people, but this will not become a world without cities. Despite the risks that density brings, the advantages of urban life outweigh the minuses. While viruses spread more quickly in cities, so do ideas, culture, innovation, and opportunities,” the piece states.