Late last week, just before Sandy’s wrath broke over the Northeast, Bart Blatstein unveiled his proposed North Broad mega-casino and resort, the Provence, to local politicos, powerbrokers, and the press. Ambitious in scale, it is nonetheless relatively unambitious in amenity, seeking to replicate a Vegas Strip-type development on North Broad. And as such, an introverted design seeking to lure customers in and up, rather than one seeking to connect what is currently a relatively empty area between Center City and several major neighborhoods, it falls prey to significant urban design and architectural failings.
In the past, Blatstein has shown he does not truly grok urbanism, but that he can be coached by those who do to produce intensely-urban designs; the Piazza, generally considered his greatest success, began life as a strip mall design like his movie theaters on the Waterfront and in Manayunk: it was gradually coached into its final form as a collaboration between he, the developer; Scott Erdy, lead architect of Erdy-McHenry; and Matt Rubin et al. of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. As neither Blatstein nor Erdy are natural urbanists*, we can safely say the Piazza’s urban design is largely the NLNA’s work.
Blatstein did not produce this by himself.
The fact that Blatstein has learned more a facsimile than a reality of the Piazza’s lessons shows in the Provence. It has not one, but several notable urban design issues, which, taken together, fail to capitalize on the site’s existing assets, and worse, fail to ensure strength beyond a single life-cycle.