The Center City District is planning to build a new Starbucks coffee kiosk in Dilworth Park, what the city calls its “lively centerpiece.”
When new developments take place on public property, people usually expect a playground or improvements to a park — not a coffee chain’s kiosk. It seems like the kiosk would cater more to tourists, and I just think a new Starbucks in the area is unnecessary.
So far, nearly 7,500 people signed a petition against these construction plans that were announced last month, which are already underway. The petition was started by Conrad Benner, the founder of the Streets Dept. blog, which covers street art in Philadelphia.
Benner posted the petition after publishing a blog post about his concerns to his public space art blog. It didn’t take long for many other people to join in the backlash. Benner argues the park is a public space and should not be “sold to Starbucks for their private profit.”
I completely agree with Benner. It’s right at the foot of City Hall and is a Philadelphia icon on its own.
Because the Center City District is a private nonprofit that manages a public park, it should have a certain responsibility to the public, Benner said.
“I don’t think building a Starbucks on public land is good,” Benner said. “We shouldn’t be leasing off public space to a multinational coffee chain to sell to make a profit off of our public lands.”
The Center City District could have even chosen to open a coffee kiosk that sold locally roasted coffee. I personally think the park should better accommodate families and add a playground for the children that come to play in the splash park. But if it goes through with the current plan, it’ll waste the much-needed public space and instead lease it to a private company. It’s worse that these tenants would be a multinational corporation.
On top of that, there’s already a Starbucks that’s a five-minute walk from Dilworth Park. And there are many other Starbucks locations in Center City.
Instead, we should use the space to build a small public library or dedicate it as mural space for local artists to take turns displaying their work on, as Benner suggested in his petition. These proposals would give something back to the community, fostering creativity and thought.
The current plan ignores all potential for improvement and only brings revenue to an already rich coffee chain.
As a college student who often relies on coffee, I love Starbucks. However, I think the district should seriously consider a better use of the public space. I may be a frequent customer but that doesn’t change how I feel about the petition — and many other Philadelphia residents agree.
Dilworth Park is a beautiful, accessible spot with a La Colombe across the street. Starbucks, a chain that had a racial profiling incident in Philadelphia last April, is not something we need there.
The Center City District argues the kiosk will raise money to maintain the park. Last year, there was a $1.6 million budget shortfall for operational expenses, and the new kiosk will help to cover the costs of that shortfall in the future, according to the Center City District.
“People could think that maybe we can build a Starbucks and in exchange, it covers that shortfall and maybe it’s a deal that it’s better for the city,” Benner said. “But what’s also been reported is this Starbucks will only bring in $60,000 to $80,000 a year so it won’t even barely make a dent in this huge budget shortfall.”
Lyric Smith, a sophomore English literature major, said although Philadelphia is constantly expanding and improving, having a Starbucks in a public space could set a trend where private interests could take over the city.
“A playground space would be better for the younger kids or even selling local goods or an arts center instead,” Smith said. “I think they should [set] space to encourage the community before thinking of building another Starbucks.”
William Clark, a 2018 finance alumnus, said he is worried about how Philadelphia has already allowed enough public spaces to be used privately.
“We already have the Chinese Lantern Festival at Franklin Square and a lot of billboard ads in Center City,” he said. “I really don’t think we should be giving up public space to a private corporation, especially in a park that has been intended to be fully enjoyed by all Philadelphians.”
“If the Center City District is building the Starbucks with tax revenue in mind, then it should consider how to support current revenues instead,” Clark added.
At the end of the day, public space should be representative of its population. And a well-known area in Philadelphia should emphasize the city’s unity. Starbucks doesn’t embrace our mission, and it isn’t worth our park space.