As the summer grinds to a close and Jay Z parks his Made in America Corporate Musical Mothership in town for a second consecutive year, the question begs: is Philadelphia ready to cash in on its cool factor?
The question has been asked before. A decade ago, when MTV decamped for a season of The Real World in Olde City, the question was asked. It turned out, however, that urban cool did not necessarily go hand-in-hand with having a bunch of bored, twentysomethings creating havoc near our watering holes.
The question now, however, is more salient. We have bike paths, and river paths and dedicated skate parks. We have boutique hotels and new apartment buildings that have lobbies that look like boutique hotels. We have pop-up parks and pop-up beer gardens. And recently, we have been awarded a lot of number one rankings, several for things you might not have known there were rankings for.
For instance: Did you know that Franklin Fountain in Olde City was just anointed by foodie site The Daily Meal as maker of the best milkshake in America? It was. And were you also aware that Ultimo Coffee, resting off the beaten track in the Graduate Hospital area was named the best coffee shop in America, also by The Daily Meal? Yes, it was, following in the footsteps of La Colombe which won the award in a different poll several years ago. It should also be noted that the second outpost of New York City's Joe which opened recently on Rittenhouse Square came in at number nine in the latest poll.
And there have been others. Chickie's and Pete's winning ESPN's poll a couple years ago as the nation's best sports bar. And lets not forget DiNic's earning a number one ranking from the Travel Channel last year for its Roast Pork sandwich. Speaking of travel, Travel and Leisure Magazine recently ranked our city as Number One in the country for culture, an aggregated poll combining questions on everything from orchestras and sports to microbreweries and fine dining.
Will any of this mean anything as far as the city's dollars and cents? The jury is still out on that, and will remain so until the city attracts more companies and adds heft to its tax base. But the polls and the activity on the street cannot hurt.
"There's a lot of good momentum out there," noted an official from the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. And as a for instance, there is word of higher end retailers taking a close look at Walnut Street in an effort that might bring the city some of the shopping experiences that up to now forced a trip to King of Prussia. City leaders, and those that sell the city, expect Philadelphia to start reaping the benefits, and soon.
"While jobs traditionally attract residents, the availability of a highly-skilled, well-educated population in the midst of a culturally rich and walkable downtown is now also a powerful draw for many employers," said Paul Levy, President of Center City District. He added that Center City now has twice the national average of well-educated 25-34 year olds, with plenty of empty nesters to boot.
And speaking of education, the colleges are seeing a rise in their applications, an integral component in the city's quest to draw and retain taxpayers.
"We're excited about it but there are challenges as well," said Brian Ellis, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education at Drexel's LeBow School of Business. LeBow has just admitted 722 students for its incoming Fall, 2013 semester, its largest class ever. It's applications for the 2013-14 school year were 8492, more than 1100 over last year's total. Hence the challenge.
Ellis, like Levy, touted the city's draw as it pertains to students, citing the city's thriving business community and civic engagement. "I think that is a huge factor in why people are coming to Drexel and why they are coming to Philadelphia," he said.
Business leaders concur. "One of our core values is people as a competitive advantage," said Michelle Y. Lee, Executive Vice President, Northeast Regional President of Wells Fargo Bank. "One of the great things about Philadelphia is the availability of a skilled and talented workforce."
Satwik Seshasai, Chief Technology Office of NextDocs went as far as to compare Philadelphia favorably to such technology hotbeds as San Francisco and Boston, saying Philadelphia "offers the best possibilities" when looking to commercialize technology.