Avenue of the Arts, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded in 1993 to promote the development, beautification, and marketing of the Avenue of the Arts. The AAI district encompasses South Broad Street, from City Hall to Washington Avenue, east to 13th Street, and west to 15th Street. This area is a vibrant and growing destination for residents and visitors alike. Our mission is to support economic growth by advocating for the interests of the stakeholders and businesses of the Avenue of the Arts and raising funds for capital reinvestment, beautification, and marketing.
— CARL DRANOFF, VISIONARY PHILADELPHIA DEVELOPER
Chief Financial Officer
Tag Communication Services
Walker & Rhoads LLP
Rittenhouse Strategies LLC
Impact Law & Strategy
First Person Arts
Bryant & Wilde Realty, LLC
Senior Vice President
Chief Executive Officer
Dranoff Properties, Inc.
Founder & CEO
En Route Marketing
Owner and Physician
Advocare Sleep Physicians of SJ
Net Carrier Inc.
Retired EVP &
Chief Financial Officer
Head of Impact
SVP - Director of Commercial Banking & Wealth Management
Blank Rome LLP
President and CEO
University of the Arts
Nina Zucker Associates
President, Philadelphia City Council
Councilmember, 1st District, Philadelphia City Council
Designee for Councilmember Squilla
Chief of Staff
Chief Cultural Officer and Director
Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy
Thirty years ago, The Avenue of the Arts began as a glimmer in the eyes of Philadelphia’s civic, cultural and business leaders to develop an arts and entertainment district that would serve as a catalyst for cultural and economic growth on Broad Street, Philadelphia’s “Main Street”.
Long considered Philadelphia’s main thoroughfare, Broad Street – and much of Center City – by the early 1990’s had been steadily declining when visionary then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell saw the concept of an “Avenue of the Arts” along Broad Street. He envisioned it as a part of a larger strategy to revitalize the City using the area’s arts and cultural strengths as an economic generator.
As we celebrate The Avenue of the Arts’ 30th Anniversary, we recall its history and recognize the wisdom of the vision and the economic achievements it created. Attached to this History is a brief outline of the economic impact of the Avenue of the Arts in these 30 years.
Let’s take a brief look at the Avenue’s first three decades as we move into its fourth:
FIRST DECADE (1993-2002)
Building upon Ed Rendell’s vision, Avenue of the Arts, Inc. (AAI) was created under the leadership of Dr. Bernard Watson, AAI’s first Board Chair, and Ellen Solms, Executive Director. The focus initially was on the planning and funding for the re-birth of the Avenue as Philadelphia’s Main Street, a center for arts, culture and entertainment for the City and the region; and, equally important, as a catalyst for economic development on the Avenue and in Center City. This focus, and the energy and expertise of AAI’s first Board of Directors, helped spur the addition of important arts and cultural venues on the Avenue between Glenwood and Washington Avenues, alongside the internationally-renowned Academy of Music. Among these new venues (which continue to flourish today) were the Arts Bank, the Brandywine Workshop, the Clef Club and the Freedom Theater. The “piece de resistance” of this effort was the development and opening of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, to applause from around the world.
As Mayor Rendell had hoped and intended, these developments encouraged the private sector, with governmental support, to invest in additional projects along the Avenue, including the expansion of the Doubletree Hotel, the repurposing of the shuttered Girard Bank building into the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the former Ridgeway Library into the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the transformation of the City Hall Annex into a much-needed hotel to serve the newly- developed Convention Center, the creation of the Prince Theater and PAFA’s addition of the historic Hamilton Building to its renowned campus.
SECOND DECADE (2003-2012)
With the completion of the Kimmel Center, AAI’s Board believed it was appropriate to focus on stewardship and enhancement of the Avenue and its new assets. Under the leadership of new Board Chair, then Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s First Lady, now United States Court of Appeals Judge, Marjorie O. (Midge) Rendell, and newly-appointed Executive Director Karen Lewis, AAI worked to facilitate the discussion and planning for further economic and cultural development. According to Judge Rendell, “While the Kimmel Center has added a new vitality and excitement to South Broad Street, the Avenue of the Arts is not a finished product. From Pine Steet to Washington Avenue, and the prevalence of available sites offers unique opportunities to investors for a variety of entertainment, cultural, residential and commercial uses.” Not surprisingly, Judge Rendell’s understanding of the development opportunities has been the basis for the transformation of the Avenue to this day.
AAI sought to realize and build upon the cultural and economic underpinning for the Avenue that was created during the first decade. An Avenue Council was created to convene business and cultural leaders to discuss common issues and goals and to coordinate efforts to promote the interests of stakeholders along the Avenue. AAI worked to increase the visibility of not only the Avenue itself, but the growing business and residential community between Thirteenth and Fifteenth Streets. Judge Rendell stepped down as Board Chair in 2007 and was succeeded in 2008 by Jorge Lovera and David Blum, as co-Chairs, and then by Patricia (Trish) Wellenbach in 2009 through 2011.
During AAI’s second decade, investments in the Avenue resulted in an unprecedented influx of people of all ages to the Avenue to experience and participate in an increasingly exciting lifestyle. In an effort to enhance the residential ambiance of the Avenue, and to help foster and support a residential community to enable the Avenue to thrive long after the end of the business day, AAI created the “Friends of the Avenue”, as an affiliate of AAI. Under the initial leadership of Board Member Diane Bryant, followed more recently by AAI’s Vice-Chair and Friends’ President, Tim Moir, the membership database grew to more than 3000 residents of the Avenue. The Friends are a critical stakeholder voice for the continued cultural and economic development on the Avenue, supporting and encouraging the continued success of the restaurant and hospitality renaissance in Center City. 2023 also marks the 15th anniversary of the Friends.
AAI also continued its focus on adding assets to the Avenue. Under the leadership of Board Member and recognized architect/planner, Jorge Lovera, AAI planned and completed an iconic street-lighting project on North Broad Street, raising more than $10 million in state (RCAP) funding. This project added important lighting and streetscape for North Broad Street. Perhaps more importantly, it visibly demonstrated AAI’s ability to facilitate improvement of the physical elements of the Avenue, providing another example of AAI’s leadership in planning for the important streetscape and infrastructure project to be initiated by AAI in the near future.
THIRD DECADE (2013- 2022)
As AAI moved into its third decade, there was recognition that building on the successes of the Avenue involved developing and maintaining working relationships and a continuing dialogue with, and the support of, important stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. The AAI Board, along with City officials, also made the difficult decision to concentrate AAI’s efforts on the south side of the Avenue. A separate organization was created to serve the interests of stakeholders north of City Hall. AAI turned to Dianne Semingson, as Board Chair, and Paul Beideman, as Executive Director, accomplished leaders in the city’s business and civic life with credibility in the Philadelphia and governmental, non-profit, and business worlds, to lead the next phase of its work.
With Semingson’s and Beideman’s leadership, AAI revitalized the Avenue Council to provide a forum for stakeholders to address concerns about life on the Avenue and to enhance our community as we emerged from the pandemic. At the same time, the AAI Board recognized the next important step in realizing the original vision would be to define a clear identity for the Avenue as the place to be for residents, workers, students, and visitors to be involved in the City’s life. New LED lighting, robust and colorful planters, enhanced holiday decorations, and accessible and welcoming new crosswalks were undertaken. The Board believed the Avenue could and should be one of the great streets of the world, a destination for citizens and visitors alike. The Board recognized that “Placemaking” of the Avenue as Philadelphia’s “Main Street”, would help realize Ed Rendell’s vision of a sustainable future, especially given the Avenue’s unique cultural and economic advantages. With the retirement of Executive Director Paul Beideman in 2021, AAI named Laura Burkhardt, Executive Director, to help AAI’s Board implement the new vision.
FOURTH DECADE AND BEYOND (2023….)
To begin “Placemaking”, AAI has embarked in its fourth decade on the development of an ambitious visioning plan for the Avenue with the help and professional guidance of the nationally-known Gensler firm. This plan is intended to provide a template for the physical and visual re-imagining of the Avenue, creating an iconic identity for the Avenue of the Arts as a “Center Stage” of the city and the region for everyone. The full implementation of this plan is a long-term project, involving significant financial underpinning and stakeholder support. It is intended that a first stage portion of the project be in place in conjunction with the City’s participation in the 250th Anniversary of the nation in 2026.
As we celebrate AAI’s first 30 years, we remain mindful of AAI’s continuing obligation to the Avenue and the City. As Board Chair Semingson said: “…while the Avenue saw periods of slowing growth and downturns due to the dot.com collapse in 2008 and the COVID pandemic in 2020-2022, AAI’s objective, as we look forward to the next decade and beyond, will be to continue to enhance Philadelphia’s greatest destination with new and ever-changing improvements that support it as an economic generator and a gathering place for all who live in and come to Philadelphia”. That, of course, was the original vision, and we look forward to continuing our work together to make it a reality.
The Friends of the Avenue of the Arts, Inc., an auxiliary of AAI, was formed to create, through social, networking and service events, a community of residents, visitors, and people who work on the Avenue of the Arts. The Friends support AAI businesses and arts organizations by connecting Avenue stakeholders and Friends members through their many activities.
The Avenue of the Arts Inc. Council was formed to provide an open forum for discussion and collaboration among stakeholders and other interested parties within the boundaries of the Avenue of the Arts. Council members include hoteliers, business and building owners, City Council representatives, civic leaders. and members of the performing arts community. Participation on the Council is by invitation only.