Just south of Temple’s campus on Broad Street sits Progress Plaza. As America’s first African-American owned mall, its purpose was to serve the community. Certainly the Plaza has seen better days, but management’s hopes is that it will see better days.
Thomas Anderson Jr., a Board of Trustees member both at Temple and Progress Plaza said that with the Plaza’s current situation, “it can’t survive.” Anderson noted that many of the stores have been there for years, even though the goals of the Plaza have changed.
“Better days” means more for Temple University students as well. Recent planning at the Plaza has taken into consideration Temple’s growing on-campus population with its expansion.
There sits an empty building that used to house Superfresh, which left because it was looking to expand the store and Progress Plaza management was not prepared to do that. Superfresh ended up working out a deal with management breaking the 50-year lease.
As early as May 2001, Marvin L. Williams, Legal Counsel and Chief Financial Officer at Progress Plaza, sees either a Thriftway or ShopRite in the 17,300-sq. ft. space, which will not see any expansion.
With the new 1,000-bed dorm, which adds several new apartments to those already at Temple Towers, a nearby grocery store makes apartment style dorm living more convenient.
Temple’s construction of the new dorm has sparked interest in Progress Plaza by outside sources.
“They [the developers] see dollars,” Anderson said of the affect of the new dorm, along with the prospect of the long delayed Jump Street and Avenue of the Arts North revitalization.
“Temple is a neighbor we have to take into consideration,” said Williams, a Temple alumnus, when discussing the Plaza’s renovations addressing the needs of Temple’s student body and the community.
Tension between the community and Temple is good way to describe the current relationship from a political point of view, but according to Anderson, there is a “marriage between the community and Temple,” more of a positive reinforcing relationship.
The empty Superfresh building is considered small by most major chains, but renovations and reconfigurations are underway to better the use of available space. Currently, the Plaza is securing financing for the endeavor which Anderson calls the anchor for the rest of Progress Plaza.
Last year there were discussions between Progress Plaza’s management and President Liacouras dealing with retail options. Discussions dealt with business coming to Temple’s Park Mall. Williams said that the possibility of having two of the same business so close did not meet the goals of the Plaza.
Another loss for Temple students was the early closing of Eckerd’s. Its lease didn’t originally end until 2007, but the early closing will work well for future changes at Progress Plaza. The Plaza, which didn’t own the building paid for the early closing of Eckerd’s and with the building now in their possession, Phase II’s time frame has been pushed up.
Phase II includes major site changes. The first of these will require tearing down the back buildings and moving the parking lot there and rebuilding the stores in the front parallel to Broad Street.
Williams said that the new Progress Plaza closely resemble a suburban mall, which will offer a greater range of services to the community. A feasibility study was conducted last year and in that study, the community was polled about possible businesses coming into the area.
Future hopes include an eatery other than current fast food fare. Possibly a TGI Friday’s, which would offer a place for students and parents, as well as the community.
The new Plaza creates roughly 300 additional jobs and retail space will double, added Williams. He sees a mixture of national and “mom and pop” stores along with office space.
Plaza management, which still needs to find more financing for the project is talking with possible developers. Without developers there isn’t much of a time frame yet, though the most extensive changes to the block won’t be underway until for some time.