Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2009/ January 2010
Pennsylvania Convention Center Expansion Drives Hotel Development and Proposed Renovation Projects
By: Edith Billups

Tourists and meeting planners looking at Philadelphia for their next destination will have several new options to choose from as the city gears up for a new Convention Center expansion and other renovations. 

The expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center is opening the door for several hotel development and renovation projects as the city nears the Convention Center’s 2011 opening date. It is estimated that an additional 2,000-2,500 hotel rooms are needed for the expansion. 

Under new President and CEO Ahmeenah Young, the center is leading a $700 million expansion that will increase the state’s footprint to over one million sq. ft. The expansion will increase the current space by 60%, forming the largest contiguous exhibit space in the Northeast at 700,000 sq. ft. and, at 60,000 sq. ft., the largest convention center ballroom on the East Coast. 

The expansion also will create 2,000 hospitality industry jobs; generate $10 million in income tax revenue for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and contribute $150 million annually to the regional economy. The project also has given the PCC the chance to aggressively pursue diversity and inclusion in contract opportunities and union employment opportunities. 

According to Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, “The (convention center) expansion will help to make Philadelphia one of the top cities in the country, a premier city. More conventions and more businesses will be compelled to come.”   

The expansion project comes at a time when Nutter also has implemented Greenworks Philadelphia, the city’s sustainability framework which has set goals in five areas — energy, environment, equity, economy and engagement. The framework encompasses more than 150 achievable, measurable initiatives which, when implemented, will reduce the city’s vulnerability to rising energy prices, limit its environmental footprint and reposition its workforce and job development strategies to build upon Philadelphia’s competitive advantages in the emerging green economy. 

For Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, the expansion is welcome news for nearly a dozen hotels that have embarked on major upgrades to guest rooms, meeting facilities, restaurants and the latest in technology. “We currently have two exciting hotel projects, Hotel Palomar and LeMeridien, which will be a welcome addition to the hotel landscape,” said Grose. “We also expect a several hundred-room anchor property to be built in the vicinity of the Convention Center.” 

Located in The Architect’s Building, a 24-story Art Deco structure at 17th and Sanson streets, Klimpton’s Hotel Palomar Philadelphia features 230 rooms and is one of the city’s first cosmopolitan boutique hotels. The $92.5 million project will feature the restaurant Square 1682. Currently, the hotel is the only LEED registered hotel in Philadelphia.

The LeMeridien Philadelphia, at 1421 Arch St., offers five floors of four-star accommodations, along with a 90-seat restaurant, Amuse. Newly renovated hotels include The Doubletree Hotel Philadelphia at South Broad Street. Recently completed renovations of its 432 guest rooms include eight deluxe suites. The hotel also features a 4,200-sq. ft. Assembly on Five full service meeting center, particularly appealing to life science meeting groups.

For Philadelphians like Danielle Cohn, vice president of marketing and communications for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the expansion and sustainability initiatives will make Philadelphia even more appealing to meeting planners and tourists who also consider topnotch restaurants and places of cultural interest when deciding on a destination.

Currently, Philadelphia is well-known for its historic landmarks, museums, sporting events, and shopping. With the convention center expansion, several new exciting restaurants have opened, such as Chifa, a Latin-Asian restaurant introduced early this year by Latin Superstar chef Jose Garces. At 707 Chestnut St. the restaurant’s stunning space features a center-stage ceviche bar and a 16-seat gold resin communal table. An impressive menu of signature small plates includes Aji Gallina, a classic Peruvian dish of slow poached chicken in a spicy sauce of aji Amarillo, walnuts and queso fresco, served over confit purple potatoes and garnished with purple Peruvian olives.

For African-Americans, the newly renovated Philadelphia African American Museum is a must-see visit and features historical facts on Black Philadelphians. Located at 701 Arch St., the museum’s newest exhibit, “Audacious Freedom,” recounts the stories of, and contributions of, people of African descent in Philadelphia from 1776-1876. Another important stop is The President’s House at 6th and Arch St.

Once the home of George Washington and John Adams, the house is significant in that, it was the first site of the White House when Washington resided in Philadelphia. It has gained even more importance these days due to discovery of slave quarters on the property in 2002. Apparently, because of a loophole, Washington kept nine slaves on the property, even though slavery was outlawed in Pennsylvania. He conveniently used a loophole that allowed slaves to be kept only for six months, conveniently rotating his slaves to his Mount Vernon estate to bypass the law.

The City of Brotherly Love is known for several historical firsts, including being the site of the first hospital, the oldest living botanical garden in the nation, and the first Black nursing school.

When visiting, be sure to check out the numerous murals that dot the city’s landscape, providing important information about its various immigrants and neighborhoods.

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