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Bridging The Gap, A Joint Statement on Dilworth Park

April 9, 2019

(Photos courtesy of Center City District)

An Introductory Note from Conrad:
What you are about to read is a jointly written blog post from Center City District President Paul Levy and myself, Streets Dept Founder Conrad Benner. As many readers of this blog have likely noticed, over the last several weeks I have very publicly objected to the selling of Starbucks coffee via new Starbucks-branded kiosk leased by Center City District in Dilworth Park. I wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about it, and I even started a petition against it that many of you signed. I did this because, as I’ve talked about many times over the eight years of running this blog, I believe that our public space is too valuable to not have regular conversations about it. And frankly this Dilworth Park situation seemed, in the grand scheme of issues in need of our attention, a relatively easy problem to fix. As I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks, however, it’s not so easy. But the opportunity has presented itself to work to address one of the fundamental reasons this happened in the first place.

I won’t sugar coat it, this kiosk is going to happen and it’s going to sell Starbucks. This became clear to me after reaching out to Paul Levy to discuss our disagreement, to understand where we agree, and to work to see what we can do about this issue. The simple fact is that breaking this contract with Starbucks now would create many legal and financial penalties, both time and money that is ultimately better spent on creating services in the park itself. Personally, of course I will not be thrilled to see that kiosk selling Starbucks, but as you’re about to read I am satisfied that Paul and I can agree to agree on a number of key issues around the future of Dilworth Park. I think anyone who joined me in signing my petition can take solace in the fact that while this kiosk will happen, that together we have worked to push for more transparency and ultimately to make sure a similar decision isn’t made in the future.

The following is a joint blog post from Center City District (CCD) President Paul Levy and Streets Dept Founder Conrad Benner:

When the original Dilworth Plaza opened in 1977, Philadelphia was losing 200,000 manufacturing jobs, population was in free fall and one of us was 30.

The first full year the new Dilworth Park was open, 2015, Philadelphia was adding jobs and population, but the poverty rate was over 25% and one of us was 30.

That same year, Philadelphia government was spending less on parks and recreation than 26 of the 30 largest cities – just $69 per person, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts (page 11). Both of us agree on the need for quality public spaces and support increased funding. We disagree on how to do that.

The Kenney Administration is now spending more, but many other needs still compete for limited public funding. Private sector resources can supplement scarce public funds, but the presence of a multinational coffee chain in our central public park offends some.

After disagreeing in virtual space, we came together for the first time last month in real space (over coffee, of course) to discuss how to bridge the gap. We agreed on several things:

  • No public space is being sold; the kiosk in Dilworth will be publicly owned, operated and staffed by a local company, licensing the right to use the Starbucks name. To break a contract after going through all approvals would create many legal and financial penalties, both time and money that we ultimately believe is better spent on creating public services in the park itself.
  • Civic spaces are special, our local business should be celebrated, and excessive corporate branding in public spaces should be avoided.
  • We should support local businesses, artists, artisans and merchants, scores of whom appear regularly at events in Dilworth Park. We can work together to attract even more local talent and better communicate future opportunities.
  • With the Starbucks lease, CCD followed its standard public outreach and the formal public approval process. However, it is clear in the wake of this controversy that we can do better, and moving forward, CCD plans to work at communicating in ways that increase transparency and inclusiveness about contemplated major, physical changes at Dilworth Park. In doing so, we are confident that we can avoid similar disagreements in the future.
  • You can make change by hiring Philadelphians to eliminate litter and help pedestrians throughout Center City and by raising funds to remake derelict space. You can celebrate the improvisational art of the streets and mobilize change through the power of social media. Working together, we can make Philadelphia an even more vibrant, collaborative, and inclusive place.

Dilworth used to be a place that relatively few Philadelphians sought out. Now it is everyone’s park, attracting 10.8 million in 2018. Office workers and toddlers enjoy the fountains, usually in different ways. Students, residents, families, tourists and shoppers, come to eat, drink, read, work or simply sit alone and watch the crowds. Everyone is welcome at free concerts, movies, events and the holiday light show. It is a sign of success that people are so passionate about the place, even if they sometimes disagree on specifics. We value that passion, and we will work together to give voice to all who love Dilworth Park.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew permalink
    April 9, 2019 2:02 pm

    Thank god cooler head prevailed and no one was swayed by your self-important bullshit. Try and stay out if the way of people making actual progresse next time and keep your masturbatory drivel on this blog.

    • April 9, 2019 3:27 pm

      Hey Andrew, I hope you use whatever tools you have to work for the change you want to see in the world.

      • Andrew permalink
        April 10, 2019 2:54 pm

        I do, and I have for years. With actual service, not misguided petitions and self-aggrandizing blogs. Get the fuck out of my face with your snarky high-road bullshit. This petition was always about you. If you actually cared about the city’s problems, you’d find one that’s worthy of solving and think for more than 30 seconds about how to solve it. The world has enough vapid artists that fancy themselves activists. Go do something hard that actually matters.

    • Vince permalink
      April 10, 2019 7:47 pm


      I like your moxie and the cut of your jib. Let’s be friends and talk about it over some coffee at the Dilworth Plaza Starbucks.

      While we’re there we can start a petition to get that statue of Conrad built at Penn Treaty Park.


  2. Jeanne permalink
    April 9, 2019 3:23 pm

    What duration is the Starbucks contract?

  3. Natalie permalink
    April 9, 2019 3:53 pm

    Just because a Starbuck branded coffee shop is being opened there does not mean anyone has to patronize it. The best way to get out of that lease is for it to not make any money and not have it renewed. Others who opposed this, like I did, should make it a point to avoid this kiosk and instead patronize the La Colombe (local), Bluestone Lane (not local) and Parliament (not local) coffee shops located across the street from City Hall.

  4. Alisha permalink
    April 9, 2019 3:57 pm

    Always appreciate when two parties can come together to find common ground. Maybe we could add a third if Starbucks were included as a late party here too? They might be particularly interested in earning back some goodwill in our city…

  5. April 9, 2019 4:00 pm

    Now that this is over, please go slap the Mann around for actually privatizing public space and limiting access to public art and landscapes.

  6. hugh mchugh permalink
    April 9, 2019 5:28 pm

    Good job Paul Levy for spelling out financial concerns for public spaces. The local company operating is Brulee Catering which is owned by none other than COMCAST. So we need to decide if we are going to support Comcast in this venture. I say yes!!!!! They employ thousands of People in our area and are good citizens and people. Yes some people complain of the Xfinity customer service but overall I am glad they are here in Philly.

  7. hugh mchugh permalink
    April 9, 2019 5:30 pm

    And Great Job Conrad for bringing this dialogue to the people and the powers to be to the conversation. Keep looking out for Philly.

  8. April 9, 2019 7:05 pm

    LaColome is not local anymore….it’s now a national Chain owned by a Yogurt Company

  9. Vince permalink
    April 9, 2019 7:07 pm

    Hi Conrad!

    Have you ever pulled a muscle from patting yourself on the back all the time? I imagine that gets rather tiring and requires a certain degree of flexibility. Also, it would be really appreciated if you and your sheep would stop sending out so many virtue-signals. I try to use Wi-Fi in Fishtown and I can’t even get a connection because it always reverts back to whatever stupid thing you’re encouraging people to be outraged about that particular week.

    • April 9, 2019 7:44 pm

      Dude, I really don’t get this sentiment. I’m a Philly kid who uses the tools I have (and the tools I have built) to work to make the kind of change I’d like to see in the world. And I document a lot of artists, many of who are doing the same thing. Do you just not like the things I fight for, or the fact that I’m trying to have an impact at all?

      • Vinnie permalink
        April 9, 2019 9:57 pm

        Relax, Gandhi. You’re not fighting for anything important. You’re a guy with a blog and an Instagram who picks random things to get upset about and virtue signals his way up and down Frankford Avenue with the occasional venture to Center City.

        Just because you convinced a bunch of shallow-minded transplants to post an Amberella heart on Instagram doesn’t mean anything is actually changing.

      • DDAY permalink
        April 23, 2019 11:02 am

        Love the hate Vinnie but also love that even though you hate This blog and IG account so much I bet you look at it every day and evening lol your more hooked on it then then any one else

  10. Sarah Rado permalink
    April 9, 2019 10:50 pm

    Kudos to you Conrad for digging into this situation. It’s not fair that the public didn’t get to have a say in a public space, I would expect better transparency before moving forward with putting in a Starbucks or really anything for that matter.

  11. April 10, 2019 3:20 pm

    Thank you Conrad. I appreciate you not only having brought this commercial partnership to light, but also for your conversation with Paul Levy. When I attend our local civic association, Spring Garden, I find that many of our local representatives are well intentioned, good, hardworking people, willing to work with city residents to make Philly a better place. Sounds like Mr. Levy is, too. It’s a difficult dance, often with compromise, and not everyone ends up happy, but it usually seems the momentum is forward vs. backward. Caring folk like yourself and Mr. Levy are certainly positive forces, and for you both, I am thankful. Keep up the great work, Conrad!

  12. Bruce Banner permalink
    April 11, 2019 12:32 pm


  13. Michael permalink
    April 16, 2019 4:59 pm

    Wow, Conrad, looks like you have a fan in Vince! Kudos for taking the high road in your response. More importantly, thanks for your efforts on this. I’m sorry to hear that the Starbucks kiosk is still going to happen but as Natalie said below, the thing to do is to just don’t patronize it. Vote with your wallet.


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