Advertising professional Elizabeth Garson is on a mission to turn the empty lot on the corner of Broad and Washington streets in South Philadelphia into the essence of these three words: fun, community and hub.
Having lived in South Philadelphia for the last 10 years, Garson said she had become accustomed to the vacant eyesore, along with the other residents in her neighborhood.
“I drove past it, and for the first time in probably six years, I actually saw it and I was like, you know, that used to be where Cirque du Soleil happened,” Garson said. It was also the perfect space to house her big idea.
Starting in late August, Garson drew up ideas for what this space, which had been empty for about 15 years, could hold, and through the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy in City Hall, found the owners of the lot.
“I just thought it would be a yes or a no – I didn’t think that I would be meeting with everybody in City Hall, presenting a community,” Garson said.
With the owner’s support, Garson moved to the next step in planning, meeting with Bart Blatstein, the developer and founder of Tower Investments Inc. who worked on creating the Piazza at Schmidt’s in Northern Liberties.
The proposed space would include a farmer’s market, local artists’ stands, flea market vendors, an outdoor stage for performances or announcements, a “kid’s corner” for crafts, business sponsors, food trucks, an outdoor bar and a space for recreational activities such as outdoor yoga and martial arts – all without a price of admission.
“It’s a Saturday morning, you’re a city parent with two restless kids that need to get outside,” Garson said of her vision for Philadelphia Arts Market. “You’re a teenager with $10 and looking for a space to hang out with your friends. You’re a businessman and you collect antiques. You’re the mayor, and you need an outdoor stage. You’re a man, a woman, a senior citizen, a preteen, a hipster, a jock, a junk collector, an artist, a music lover. You are anyone and everyone that lives in Philadelphia.”
The idea of community and appreciation for local artists and vendors is not new, but Garson’s plans are unique.
“There will be flea marketers, but not like what we’re seeing right now in Philly, which are like these high-end antique places,” Garson said. “The structure here is that the prices are inexpensive and that there is something for people of every age.”
The Arts Market would not only spread the arts culture of Philadelphia, but also provide a place for the community to come together for a “bustling outdoor event” during warmer months.
While there are other spaces to consider, the lot on Broad and Washington streets is Garson’s favorite, and is supported by members of her neighborhood and people all over Philadelphia, including city councilmen Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson.
Multiple vendors have already expressed interest, as well as hundreds of people through social media.
On Wednesday Garson will meet with Blatstein, the developer, to receive a final “yes or no” from the buyer of the Philadelphia Arts Market parcel.
“This is the final frontier,” Garson said of the six-month stretch of scouting and planning.
“I own a house here, my kids go to school here,” Garson said in her proposal. “This project is a labor of love for me.”
Paige Gross can be reached at email@example.com.