State of Center City 2018

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Introduction & Overview


Philadelphia is enjoying the longest period of economic expansion in the last 50 years, adding 55,100 jobs since 2010 and showing positive growth in all but one year since 2005. In 2016, Philadelphia added a record 13,600 jobs; in 2017, the city added another 10,700 jobs. Growth has been driven entirely by private-sector gains, with public sector employment continuing a 25-year trend of contraction. By local standards, this is very good news. By national, urban standards, things should be significantly better.

Center City is the largest place of employment in the city and region, holding 42% of Philadelphia’s jobs with 298,612 wage and salaried positions and another 9,000 self-employed individuals, freelancers and those compensated as partners. Other growth areas include University City, with 11% of city jobs, and the fast growing Navy Yard, with 1% of the city’s jobs. Since 2005, the balance of Philadelphia has continued to lose jobs at
the rate of 0.4% per year.

Diversification is the defining strength of the downtown economy. Professional, business and financial services, real estate and information — prime office-using industries — account for 40% of downtown jobs, occupying 41.2 million square feet of space. Education and health services, the largest sector citywide, is the second largest downtown with jobs provided by 15 colleges and universities and five hospitals, accounting for 20% of Center City employment. Entertainment, leisure, hospitality and retail provide 16% of downtown jobs in 243 arts and cultural institutions, 11,675 hotel rooms, 992 retail premises and 453 full-service restaurants. Federal, state and
local government employment provides 12% of Center City jobs.

While private sector growth was particularly strong in 2016 and 2017, with the city’s rate surpassing that of the region and nearly catching up with the nation as a whole, Philadelphia has not kept pace with the rate of employment growth in America’s 26 largest cities, with size determined by the number of jobs.

Since 2009, the largest cities have been outperforming the national economy and adding private sector jobs at an average of 2.3% per year, compared to only 1.4% in Philadelphia.

Today, Center City is more vibrant than at any time since the late 1940s, before suburbanization and de-industrialization started draining life and jobs out of the city. But changes at the national and state levels are challenging Philadelphia more than at any time in recent memory. We must be far more self-reliant and inventive, making better use of the assets we have. It’s time to manage more effectively our narrow streets and intimate-scaled sidewalks and create a competitive platform for broader, more inclusive growth.

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Center City’s 41.2 million square feet (sf) of commercial office space is the backbone of the downtown economy. Well-served by transit, office buildings hold the densest concentration of employment opportunities in the region, providing 40% of downtown jobs and the most diverse opportunities: high-skilled positions requiring at least a college degree, technical, support and clerical jobs, as well as building engineers and managers, security personnel and custodians. Every time tenants turn over, construction trades are called on to renovate space.

Office workers spend time and money in downtown shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, creating $230 million in annual retail demand. Business travelers accounted for almost one-third of all hotel room nights in 2017. Center City’s office occupancy rate slightly decreased from 87.8% in 2016 to 86.6% in 2017, though still surpassing suburban occupancy levels of 85.3%. Trophy occupancy was highest at 95%, followed by Class A and B at 89% and 88%, respectively. Though average asking rents rose to $30.59/sf from $29.60/sf, this is still far lower than the leading markets nationally — almost a third less of asking rents in Midtown Manhattan ($80.15), and nearly half of asking rates in Boston ($56.64) and Washington, D.C. ($54.83). In Center City, the West Market Street submarket commands the highest rents at an average of $31.78/sf, with Independence Square following closely behind at $31.27/sf. The submarkets east of Broad saw the highest rate appreciations in 2017, as older office buildings have been repositioned and the historic westward migration of tenants has been counter-balanced by a broader resurgence of the east side of downtown.

Investor demand for office buildings continues to grow in Philadelphia’s relatively affordable market, especially from national and global firms. A total of 4.7 million sf of office space, representing $830 million in transactions, exchanged hands in 2017.

Despite these positive trends, Center City’s office sector continues to lag compared to other peer markets. A simple measure of success is the premium that businesses are willing to pay to be in the employee- and amenity-rich CBD, as opposed to the suburbs. A sampling of major CBD markets nationwide by Newmark Grubb Knight Frank showed an average CBD premium of 25% in 2017 — rising to 112% in Boston and 74% in Washington, D.C. In Philadelphia, the premium on downtown space was just 10%, comparable to many sprawling Sun Belt metros. These lower rent premiums are a result of the impact on occupancy costs of Philadelphia’s wage, business and use and occupancy taxes, which can easily add a 20% to 30% premium on downtown costs. More robust growth will occur only when Philadelphia updates its tax structure to 21st century realities.

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Healthcare & Higher Education

healthcare and higher ed

Higher education and healthcare institutions are the prime engines of Philadelphia’s economy, accounting for 32% of all jobs in the city and 20% of all jobs downtown. Since 2009, “eds and meds” jobs account for 30,800 of the 55,100 jobs added in the city since the recession.

Philadelphia’s research institutions are driving innovation in the healthcare sector as well as other areas. According to the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey, combined research spending at Drexel, Temple, Jefferson, and Penn totaled $1.79 billion in 2016, up from $1.34 billion in 2015. Those four institutions launched a total of 29 startups in 2016, applied for 316 patents, and generated income from active licenses totaling $51.8 million. Penn’s research and development expenditures ranked third in the nation in 2016, after increasing by 50% since 2015. Overall, Philadelphia’s $924 million in National Institutes of Health grants in 2017 puts the city in fourth place nationally behind Boston, New York, and Seattle.

While the University City Science Center, Pennovation Center and the Drexel Innovation District are all part of strategic initiatives to foster Philadelphia’s ability to transfer academic research into economic development, Philadelphia has a lot of

catching up to do. In the Boston area, for example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology alone launched 25 startups, applied for 470 patents and generated $49.4 million in active licenses. Nine of the top 30 pharmaceutical companies nationally are physically clustered around MIT’s Cambridge campus. By contrast, the Greater Philadelphia area ranks sixth among the nation’s biopharma clusters, behind Boston, San Francisco, New York, San Diego and Washington, D.C. In 2018, the Cambridge Innovation Center, which has played a significant role in turning ideas into successful entrepreneurial ventures in the Boston area, will open in the new University City Science Center space at 3675 Market St. Establishing stronger connections between Philadelphia's research institutions and industry, capital, and local suppliers has the potential to significantly boost job growth.

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Conventions, Tourism & Hotels

conventions tourism

Major public and private investments in the hospitality sector, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Museum of the American Revolution, hotels and cultural institutions, as well as advertising and marketing efforts, have repositioned Philadelphia as a national meeting and tourist destination. This
in turn has paid dividends with record-breaking visitation numbers and expanded employment opportunities for city residents with the addition of more than 16,400 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector since 2009.

In 2017, the Pennsylvania Convention Center hosted 21 conventions and trade shows and three gate shows of 1,500 attendees or more, pushing attendance to 1,055,464. Of note was the NFL Draft, which brought 250,000 people and generated an overall economic impact of $94.9 million. Twenty-one conventions and trade shows of 4,000 or more are slated for 2018 with anticipated attendance of 1,155,000.

Leisure room nights, driven by Visit Philadelphia’s marketing in North America and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s focus on overseas travel, totaled 1,092,000 in 2017, an increase of 61% from 2008 levels. Leisure travel now accounts for 33% of the downtown’s occupied hotel room nights, surpassing commercial (31%) and group and convention business (32%). In 2018, Visit Philadelphia is planning on highlighting Philadelphia’s best-in-class food scene, as data from Bon Appétit shows 81% of leisure travelers now travel for food.

Increasing demand in Center City is driving 11 hotel projects that will increase downtown supply to more than 13,000 rooms by 2021. As of December 2017, the W Hotel, Element by Westin, Cambria Hotel & Suites (completed in early 2018), Four Seasons, Hyatt Centric, and Fairfield Inn and Suites were all under construction, with the Kimpton, SLS LUX, Marriott AC and Comfort Inn still in the planning phases. These will join the recently opened Aloft Hotel, located on North Broad Street next to the Convention Center.

Older hotels are responding with rebranding and renovations. After the completion of an $8 million renovation, Hyatt will be repositioning The Bellevue as part of their newly launched Unbound Collection, while the Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing is undergoing a two-year, $15 million, property-wide redesign, and Le Meridien is investing $1 million in upgrades
that better position the hotel to a millennial audience. Additionally, the former Omni Hotel, now known as The Franklin by Marriott, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation after its acquisition by Buccini/Pollin. The Independence Visitor Center is also investing $15 million to enlarge its gift shop and terrace overlooking Independence Mall, to be completed by 2019.

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On page 21, par.3, the first line should read "Leisure room nights, driven by Visit Philadelphia’s marketing in North America and the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau’s focus on overseas travel, totaled 1,092,000 in 2017, an increase of 61% from 2008 levels."

On page 25, the pie chart's title should be "Overseas Visitors to the Philadelphia Five-County Region by Country, 2016"

On page 25,  the call out should start "International travelers" instead of "Overseas travelers."

Arts, Culture & Entertainment

arts and culture

In 2017, Center City’s vibrant arts and culture scene attracted more than 10 million visitors from the region and around the world — not only to the venues on the Avenue of the Arts, in Old City, and around Independence National Historical Park, but smaller locations distributed throughout the downtown. The 243 museums, art galleries, theater and dance companies, and music venues in Center City, place Philadelphia third behind only New York City and Washington, D.C. in the number of arts and cultural institutions downtown and ahead of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle.

The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts saw a healthy 34% jump in the number of patrons attending the wide array of performances in Verizon Hall and the venue's other more intimate spaces. The Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, the Arden Theatre Company and the Mutter Museum all also saw increases in their attendance numbers. The Museum of the American Revolution saw 264,759 visitors come through its doors in the first seven months after it opened in April 2017.

Center City is also home to 20 live music venues, both indoor and outdoor; some are solely devoted to musical performances, while others allow concert-goers to enjoy dinner (or lunch) and a show. A cross-generational appreciation for the arts is vital for the strength of Center City’s cultural institutions and the nearly 13,000 people employed in the city’s arts, entertainment, and recreation sectors.

Center City remains a hub for public art as well. Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nation’s largest public art program, estimates that 12,000 residents and tourists visit the approximately 100

murals within Greater Center City annually, animating intimate neighborhood blocks and major thoroughfares alike.

Civic spaces are continuing to be transformed in Center City. The Center City District has steadily increased its programming in Dilworth Park. Philadelphia saw the installation of a new, 12-foot bronze statue honoring 19th century Philadelphia civil rights activist Octavius Catto in 2017, on the southwest apron of City Hall. Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture has returned to JFK Plaza at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard as part of the city’s renovation of that civic space. Across the street, the triangular plaza at the intersection of 17th and Arch streets and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, home to the Holocaust Memorial and its sculptural Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs, is undergoing a $7 million transformation, managed by the CCD, to become the Holocaust Memorial Plaza. Additions to the memorial will include a Remembrance Wall and Eternal Flame, along with a landscape redesign to activate the space and better highlight its history. Another civic space, the elevated Rail Park in the burgeoning Callowhill neighborhood, is also being renovated by the CCD in preparation for an opening in 2018.

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Center City’s flourishing retail scene builds on more than two decades of diversified development, as convention, tourism, entertainment and residential growth have dramatically expanded upon the base of retail customers provided by major office and institutional employment. Today, more than 300,000 workers, 190,000 residents and 3.3 million occupied hotel room
nights generate more than $1 billion in retail demand annually in the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

Downtown Philadelphia’s growing purchasing power has attracted more than 63 national retailers since 2013. These stores add to the existing mix of local boutiques and independents, while creating both entry-level and higher-skilled jobs. They also signal Center City’s growing stature as a regional shopping destination.

While Center City is feeling the pressures that impact all retailers globally, occupancy on the prime retail corridors of Walnut and Chestnut streets from Broad to 20th streets remain a healthy 95.5%, sustained by downtown’s desirable demographic, highly educated millennials and affluent empty nesters. By comparison, according to Reis Inc., retail vacancies hit 10% nationally in 2017.

Demand is driving more than 2 million sf of retail currently under development, as older shopping streets are transformed and Philadelphia’s prime shopping district continues to expand. The biggest investment is happening east of Broad Street, where full-block sites can accommodate large-scale projects.

Center City East will add more than 1 million sf of retail over the next few years, representing an $815 million investment in an area that had lagged for decades. This critical mass of large-scale, mixed-use development will create a continuous shopping and dining experience from Independence Mall to the major convention center hotels adjacent to City Hall.

Change is readily apparent in surging pedestrian volumes. While most of Center City’s pedestrian traffic peaks during the week around lunchtime and late afternoon, the area between Rittenhouse Square and Broad Street peaks on weekends, pointing to its status as a regional destination for retail and entertainment. Recently opened retailers have transformed West Chestnut Street from a less desirable retail location into one where pedestrian counts have increased by almost 60% over 2013 volumes. With foot traffic that now surpasses that of West Walnut Street, West Chestnut Street's transformation is a powerful indication that destination retailers can locate almost anywhere in Center City’s walkable downtown and shoppers will follow.

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Since the beginning of the recovery in 2010, Philadelphia has added 55,100 jobs, 44% of them in just the last two years. Philadelphia added jobs in 12 of the last 13 years, the longest period of expansion in more than 50 years. Growth peaked in the city in 2016, when 13,600 jobs were added, tapering down with the addition of 10,700 jobs in 2017. The recovery has been led by education and health services, which account for 56% of the jobs added in industries largely exempt from real estate and business taxes. But growth occurred across all private sector categories, except manufacturing and financial and information services. The largest losses occurred in the public sector — federal, state and municipal government employment — which collectively shed 9,300 jobs since 2009.

Center City holds 298,612 wage and salaried positions with approximately 9,000 more individuals compensated as partners, self-employed, or working freelance. Located at the center of the region’s transit and highway network, 47.5% of downtown’s 306,000 jobs are held by commuters from outside the city; 52.5% are held by Philadelphians with the city residents' share of jobs growing as the downtown’s population has grown.

At the same time, sustained job loss outside Center City, University City and the Navy Yard means that every day, another 40% of working residents of neighborhoods outside the downtown (211,000 Philadelphians) reverse commute to jobs located in the suburbs. Philadelphia’s wage tax is structured so that regardless of where a city resident works, their employer is obligated to withhold the full city wage tax.

Thus, the commute to the suburbs carries with it an incentive to move to the suburbs and population has continued to decline north of Girard Avenue and west of Broad Street, as well as in West Philadelphia and portions of the Northeast.

If local growth since 2009 had been robust enough just to make us average, attaining the 2.3% per year rate of growth of America’s largest cities, Philadelphia would have added an extra 45,400 jobs on top of existing growth of 55,100 for a total of 100,500 new job opportunities. The impact of that additional growth on Philadelphia’s persistently high unemployment and poverty could be significant, expanding Philadelphia’s tax base and generating additional tax revenue for the city and schools without raising rates.

The federal government is steadily reducing the social safety net. State resources are constrained as well. So if Philadelphia is going to make any impact on its 26% poverty rate, the highest of America’s 10 largest cities, it simply has to grow jobs at a faster rate. The city’s unemployment rate dropped from above 10% in the depths of the Great Recession to 6.2% in 2017 — still two percentage points higher than regional and national averages.

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Transportation & Access


Greater Center City is positioned at the confluence of a multimodal regional transit system consisting of 13 rail lines, three rapid transit lines, five trolley lines and 29 bus routes that carry nearly 309,000 riders every weekday into Greater Center City. Public transit enables more than 1 million residents of suburban Philadelphia counties to live within one mile of a rail station, connecting them to Center City’s employers, restaurants, retailers, healthcare services, and arts and cultural institutions.

Half of city residents can commute by transit to Center City in 30 minutes or less; 61% of those who live in Greater Center City can get to City Hall—the geographic center of downtown—in 15 minutes or less.

As Center City’s economy and population have grown, so has the number of people riding SEPTA in Philadelphia. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of passengers on the Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, Regional Rail, and bus and trolley routes has increased by 14%. The increases have been most significant on the Regional Rail lines (28%) and Market-Frankford Line (23%), approaching levels that are beginning to strain the capacity of existing infrastructure, particularly as new residents of emerging neighborhoods choose public transit for their primary commutes.

Greater Center City now has an estimated population of 190,000, equating to 51 people per acre in the 7.7 square miles between Girard Avenue and Tasker Street.

Center City has the highest concentration of residents who commute to work without a car, especially in neighborhoods closest to the West Market office district, which have non-auto commuting shares as high as 75%. Nearly one-quarter of Greater Center City residents walk to work; 6% bike to work, triple the citywide average. Another 6% are working from home.

As the number of people who work, live, visit, shop and dine downtown has increased, so have curbside deliveries and the frequency of stops by expanding ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft. Combined with increased construction activity, and minimal commitment of public resources to traffic enforcement, these trends have combined to increase congestion on Center City’s historic narrow streets. Philadelphia has affirmed its commitment to multimodal transportation and safety with the introduction of Vision Zero in late 2017, with the goal of eliminating all traffic-related fatalities and severe injuries. However, more efforts will be required in the coming years to better plan for and manage traffic congestion downtown.

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Downtown Living

downtown living

Greater Center City has capitalized on the growing national preference for diverse, walkable, live-work-play neighborhoods and has become the fastest growing residential section of Philadelphia with an estimated 190,000 residents in 2017. In the last five years, 26% of all transplants to Philadelphia have moved to the downtown, including a sizable portion of the largest demographic group in the country, 20- to 34-year-olds. These millennials now constitute 40% of the population in the downtown.

The high concentration of young professionals in Center City makes it an attractive location for businesses. In Greater Center City, 61% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Combined with the 15 colleges and universities in and around Greater Center City, this critical mass of talent is exercising a powerful draw on employers and retailers.

An expanding cohort of empty nesters is also driving downtown growth. Residents over 60 years old now make up 21% of the core Center City population and are driving demand for the high-end of the housing market. Living downtown offers older Philadelphians easy access to work, health care, arts and cultural institutions and hundreds of restaurants. For those who are retired, the downtown also offers a broad range of nonprofit organizations at which to volunteer and to support.

Greater Center City is also becoming the location of choice for growing numbers of families with children. In 2017, there were 41% more newborn Philadelphians in Greater Center City than

there were in 2000. While home to fewer households with children than the rest of Philadelphia, 14% of Greater Center City households now include children. Parents can enjoy the convenience of walking their children to one of the 19 Greater Center City elementary schools, where 8,253 students were enrolled in 2017.

Residential demand in Greater Center City remains strong. In 2017, Greater Center City saw the completion of a record high 1,916 apartment units. Apartment construction is expanding into the extended neighborhoods surrounding Center City, generally in areas near transit lines where higher density construction is allowed. In addition to apartments, 276 condominium units and 488 single-family homes were added to Greater Center City in 2017. Much of this for-sale construction is also occurring in the extended Center City neighborhoods as people who first moved to Philadelphia as students or young professionals look to buy homes and start families. The diversity of housing types and tenures allows residents to stay within the 8.5 square miles of Greater Center City as their needs change over time.

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Thirteen major development projects, totaling $1.2 billion, were completed in 2017 between Fairmount and Washington avenues, river to river. Another 35 projects of all types, totaling $4.8 billion in new investment, were under construction at the end of December 2017, while 21 more, totaling $2.9 billion, have been proposed and are still in the planning phases.

Of the 48 projects that were completed or under construction in 2017, more than half involve residential components: four are exclusively residential and 22 are mixed-use projects with a substantial residential component. Remaining projects include seven hospitality developments, six commercial/mixed-use projects, four public space improvements, as well as retail, healthcare, education, and cultural developments. 

A majority of the commercial development taking place is for the expansion or relocation of Fortune 500 companies with corporate headquarters in Center City. The largest development in the city’s history is Liberty Property Trust’s $1.5 billion Comcast Technology Center. The new tower, rising at 18th and Arch streets, adds 1.3 million square feet of trophy office space downtown, all of which is leased by Comcast. Aramark is relocating its headquarters from Market Street East to PMC Property Group’s redevelopment of the former Marketplace Design Center, where the food services giant will occupy half of that 608,000-square-foot office building. Thomas Jefferson University will take possession of the space that Aramark is vacating. A smaller cluster of creative office and nontraditional workspaces are opening east of Broad Street, signaling a new interest in that rapidly improving side of Center City.

The continued growth of overnight visitation numbers is creating more demand for downtown hotel rooms. As of December 2017, six hotel projects were under construction, including a new Four Seasons, Cambria Hotel & Suites (completed in early 2018), Fairfield Inn and Suites, Hyatt Centric, W Hotel and Element by Westin. These projects will add more than 1,600 new hotel rooms, pushing the downtown supply close to 12,700 rooms by 2019.

The combined effect of sustained job growth, a growing residential population and increased overnight visitation has spurred several large-scale retail projects, such as Phase 1 of NRED's East Market project and Macerich and PREIT's redevelopment of The Gallery, both scheduled for completion in 2018. This brings total retail space that was completed or under construction in 2017 to 1.6 million square feet, with a majority located east of Broad Street, where there is room to accommodate the larger floor plates that big-box retailers prefer.

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Center City District


For 27 years, the Center City District has worked in tandem with Central Philadelphia Development Corporation to ensure that Center City is clean, safe, and attractive and to serve as a vehicle for private sector research, advocacy and leadership in guiding development and public-private investment in the downtown.

Within the district, there are 138 uniformed sidewalk cleaners and supervisors working seven days a week, cleaning sidewalks and removing graffiti and thousands of stickers and posters from ground floor façades, light poles, buildings and street furniture. Additionally, they are responsible for the cleanliness of all CCD parks and, through contracts with SEPTA, they clean and maintain the Suburban and Jefferson rail stations. Through contracts with civic associations, they also clean four surrounding residential neighborhoods.

The CCD deploys 42 uniformed Community Service Representatives (CSRs) who work in partnership with the Philadelphia Police Department to serve as eyes on the street, to provide hospitality services to visitors, workers, and residents, and to offer outreach services to the homeless. Since 1993, the combined deployment of more than 110 public and private uniformed security has contributed to a 44% reduction in the number of serious crimes in the district, including an 86% drop in thefts from autos.

socc2018 crimerate graph

The CCD continues to maintain and update $146 million in capital improvements it has made to the District in the last two decades. This includes the cleaning and updating of 646 pedestrian and vehicular directional signs, 240 transit portal signs, 85 bus shelter maps, and 55 interpretive signs along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The CCD also ensures Center City is well-lit, maintaining 237 of the 2,189 pedestrian light poles installed in the district (the Philadelphia Streets Department services the remainder). Twenty-three sculptures, 12 Parkway building façades, and 12 Avenue of the Arts color-changing building façades are all illuminated and maintained through CCD investments.

The CCD also maintains 750 trees, including 154 in CCD’s four parks, and maintains 323 planters on-street and within CCD parks. In 2017 CCD also planted 260 vines, shrubs and perennials and 4,600 bulbs in its parks.

Center City District’s four parks all experienced growth in the number of events held in their spaces during 2017. Dilworth Park hosted over 200 events in 2017, ranging from brand activations, awareness programming for nonprofit organizations, gardening workshops for adults and children, and free group fitness sessions. Dilworth Park was visited by more than 10 million people in 2017, including a record-breaking 1,272,590 visitors in the month of December alone. During the winter season, 58,000 skaters enjoyed the Rothman Institute Ice Rink, and another 210,000 visitors explored the America’s Garden Capital Maze. New in 2017 at Dilworth Park was the Deck the Hall Light Show presented by Independence Blue Cross and co-produced by 6abc. Designed by Klip Collective, the West Market Street portal of City Hall was illuminated and with a choreographed light show to welcome the holiday season.

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