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Bad Leadership Leads to A Starbucks Being Built in Dilworth Park

February 23, 2019

Update (3/14): Since posting this article, I’ve created a subsequent petition. In less than a week, that petition has received over 5,000 signatures… SIGN THE PETITION NOW: Stop Building A Starbucks in Dilworth Park!

This week fencing went up and construction began at City Hall’s Dilworth Park on playground equipment for Philly kids a new Starbucks…

‘But wait,’ I hear you asking, ‘Isn’t this a public park, how is that even possible?’ Well, my friends, Dilworth Park like an increasing number of Philadelphia’s public spaces has been leased to a private group who now manage the park and make nearly all the decisions about what happens in the park. Decisions like closing the public park so they can host private events. That group in Dilworth’s case is the Center City District.

Now please don’t take my obvious frustration about this Starbucks as me completely disliking the kinds of public/private partnerships that made it possible. Generally speaking, I think these kinds of partnerships can be good. But more broadly, I think they should be viewed as a temporary fix to a much larger systemic problem: decades of defunding public assets. As an eternal optimist, I’m hopeful we can return to the days when more people in city, state, and federal government cared enough about the public to fairly tax corporations and the super wealthy so that we can again more vigorously invest in our public assets (public schools, parks, public transit, and all other infrastructure needs.)

As much as it truly bothers me that Franklin Square, Dilworth Park, and other Philly parks that are leased to private groups can, for instance, close those public parks for private events, it’s something I’ve been able to justify a bit just considering all the work they do to maintain the parks and even in some cases support artists in bringing their artwork to those public spaces. But damn, building a freaking Starbucks in one of our parks is without a doubt crossing my line. And frankly, it makes me anxious that this is something more and more of these privately-run public parks will try and do, which makes me even more skeptical of them than I was already.

What incompetent officials at City Hall allowed Dilworth Park to be leased without strict rules against stuff like this? And what greed-fueled people at the Center City District thought this shit would fly?

Even if you take the Starbucks element out of this, who does this serve? There’s already a Dilworth Park themed coffee shop on the other end of the park. And there’s a La Colombe mere feet away from where they’re building this Starbucks! I can think of so many better things to build on this tiny parcel of land, if the goal of this add-on was to better serve Philadelphians. Things like (as I mention above) playground equipment for all the kids who enjoy the park to use. Or how about a mini-public library with select community-related services. Or even free-standing mural walls to feature rotating murals by local artists. I guess the answer is obvious, this was not built to better serve the public.

Congrats to the Center City District for making the best case yet for the city of Philadelphia to end these public/private selling off of our city’s public parks. Or, at the very least, for them to rewrite all of your leases with rules against this kind of money grab.

Damn y’all, I am so disappointed by this. I think our public space is too valuable to be sold off like this just for profit. And if anyone from the Center City District or City Hall are reading this: Fucking do better.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2019 9:36 pm

    I just passed that “something new is coming” sign the other day. I never would have thought it would be s Starbucks! BOO-HISS!

  2. Public Citizen permalink
    February 24, 2019 7:23 am

    Starbucks is what Starbucks is. We’ve recently seen how susceptible they are to broader public opinion. Maybe it’s time for some peaceful and legal protest.

    • February 26, 2019 2:52 pm

      I would protest this if someone organized one….

      • Amanda permalink
        February 27, 2019 4:35 am

        Me too! How do we create a petition?

  3. February 24, 2019 9:15 am

    I think a Starbucks in this location devalues it. People are attracted to public places for their uniqueness. The upgrades to Dilworth Park have been great over the years, but this really sets it back. I agree with everything you said.

  4. February 24, 2019 10:16 am

    Since I know that starbucks pays 0% taxes, I don`t spend any money at this parasitic, antisocial venture!

  5. Canterel permalink
    February 24, 2019 10:40 am

    I too disapprove of the choice of Starbuck – at the very least it should be a locally owned shop.

    I agree that public-private partnerships are the best way forward with public infrastructure. I do not think that government is well equipped here and the least at the federal level to foster social good. So other approaches are needed.

    One note of clarification: Center City District is not a “private” company (or “private” in any sense). It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, which means that it functions as a steward of public trust assets. There is a widely held and false notion that nonprofits are “private”; they are quasi-government and public entities, which is why they do not pay taxes. Their governance is “independent” of government; that is all. As such, they are often better able to partner with truly private interests.

    • Phanatic permalink
      February 25, 2019 12:47 pm

      “. It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, which means that it functions as a steward of public trust assets. There is a widely held and false notion that nonprofits are “private”; they are quasi-government and public entities, which is why they do not pay taxes. ”

      This is false. 501(c)(3) organizations can absolutely be private entities. They are not quasi-government, and do not have to be public, and the reason they do not pay taxes is that their functions fall entirely under the areas that are tax-exempt: religious, charitable, etc; it is not because they are “quasi-government and public entities.” Private foundations are most definitely 501(c)(3) organizations, and they are non-governmental *by definition*. The Getty Trust, for example, is a private foundation. It’s also a 501(c)(3) org.

  6. Kay Sykora permalink
    February 24, 2019 12:16 pm

    I have worked with Parks, the City and to try and both improve greenspace areas and maintain. To date no one has found a better solution than this to provide both the park and needed ongoing maintenance. In a philosophical discussion about long term maintenance with some foundations, there is still a void around how to maintain these spaces. The city does not have the resources. We are blessed with extensive greenspace that makes our City special. I ask how else would you maintain?

  7. Wendy permalink
    February 24, 2019 2:32 pm

    Oh, I hope they all do read this!

    • Shaun Cerborino permalink
      March 8, 2019 12:50 am

      It’ll happen unfortunately. Best thing people can do is not patronize it, but we don’t live in the type of society where we put values over convenience. Plus visitors won’t know any better and would probably make up a bulk of the sales. But if somehow sales aren’t to what Starbucks wants them to be, perhaps they will not renew whatever rental agreement they have. Then you’ll have the little building there already. I agree it could be better served. The addition of more trees and the fact that the kiosk is “green” is great, it’s occupant is the problem and should be more Philly-centric, whether that be a mini library or a local eatery.

  8. colin forwood permalink
    February 24, 2019 4:04 pm

    i do approve the free wifi, idk, it’s silly in many ways, but i guess someone is making money and no harm no foul, but yeah, la colombe is right accross the street, i think maybe the solution is really restructuring our major economic drivers so we have time to go to our public parks and recreate together like we used to do before we had to work all the time. we need to reclaim our property and put it into productive use, education comes to mind, during occupy we had a neat little library and free wifi, very useful for helping people understand the reasoning behind the demonstration, perhaps starbucks will allow for a similar occupation to occur in peace and with plenty of public restrooms (composting toilets please) the great thing about coffee is it can be fair trade and produces high quality compost (to cover up the lower quality stuff from the water treatment plant)

  9. Camille Mc Colgan permalink
    February 24, 2019 6:30 pm

    This WAS a historic magnificent building. Why are we bent on destroying so much of Philadelphia !wWhats next!! Please leave some space for us to enjoy, and don’t think we need or want a Starbucks on every corner, especially at our beautiful City Hall.. Pleaae take the time to really look at the one of a kind structure, and let’s leave something in Philly for our children and grandchildren. ! Thanks for listening!!!

  10. MadHungarian permalink
    February 24, 2019 6:38 pm

    Did they even ask LaColombe (a locally based company, duh) if they wanted to expand by adding a kiosk across the street?

  11. Concerned Citizen permalink
    February 25, 2019 7:24 pm

    Has anyone asked why the director of CCD makes over $500,000 a year? That’s your answer! And why these quasi-governmental agency’s who are funded by tax dollars and assessments have to little to no oversight or control by our elected officials.

  12. Harriet Lessy permalink
    February 25, 2019 8:42 pm

    Why add more businesses that compete with a long time coffee shop just across the street. I love Starbucks – buy it for my homebrew – but really? Simarily I really don’t feel the Christmas market at City Hall is fair to retail business establishments, open all year, to be one-upped at the time of year when they should be getting increased seasonal business.

    • Sandy Smith permalink
      February 26, 2019 6:54 am

      I half hear you, Harriet, and agree that the decision to build a Starbucks both across the street from a La Colombe and at one end of a public square with a café at the other is something of a head-scratcher to say the least.

      But if you consider just how many places there are to get coffee and light fare within a block of this spot – counting the two just mentioned, there are at least six I know of, including another Starbucks on 16th Street – there must be pretty high demand for rocket fuel. So maybe this isn’t as wacky as it sounds – though I think that were I Paul Levy, I’d have tried to recruit someone local too.

      But as for the Christmas Market: A lot of what you find there you won’t find anywhere else in this city at any other time of the year. It adds to rather than detracts from the holiday shopping landscape.

  13. Stephen permalink
    February 26, 2019 7:22 am

    I completely agree. There are 3 coffee shops within 1 block, not to mention the 4th one in the very same plaza. This is a ridiculous rent grab.

  14. Margie permalink
    February 26, 2019 8:43 am

    Great idea to hurt surrounding businesses, like the brand new light fare place (that’s actually next to the La Colombe). There’s a third coffee shop across the street from La Colombe. Hard to unwind crap like this. It’s a bad move by people who really don’t care about the people of Philadelphia. They are ruining a truly beautiful asset for the City. Boo!!!

  15. v smith permalink
    February 27, 2019 10:07 pm

    Maybe city council knows something—- Ask Clark or Johnson-they know how to circumvent the law!,,

  16. Sandy Smith permalink
    February 28, 2019 5:25 am

    But consider this: None of the four other coffee shops within eyesight of this spot have gone out of business since they opened, nor have the two Dunkin’ locations out of eyesight but a short walk away. Perhaps there’s simply plenty of demand for coffee in this area? After all, you have a bunch of office workers, hotel guests and residents within a very short radius.

    Granted, it still seems strange to put one more Starbucks in the midst of all this. But I guess there are some in this area that don’t want to walk all the way to Macy’s at 13th and Chestnut or to 16th south of Market for their Starbucks fix. Given how close both they and Dunkin’ place their own shops to one another in dense city districts, I’m guessing they know something we don’t about coffee as a convenience item.

  17. David Talaga permalink
    March 8, 2019 12:02 pm

    Could you maybe do some investigating into how this came about? It’s one thing to gripe about the outcome, but if we don’t know how it happened, then how can we ensure that Philly doesn’t lose more public space to national franchises?

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