In a dream-pursued, dream-realized venture, real estate developer Bart Blatstein, founder and president of Tower Development, Inc., the city's leading development company, last weekend unveiled to the public his much awaited and heralded Piazza at Schmidt's, located at Second Street and Germantown Avenue in Northern Liberties.
With crowds of young and old in attendance, the 80,000-square-foot, open-air plaza, styled after Rome's Piazza Navona -- paved with the same scallop-patterned stones -- welcomed visitors with music, art, crafts, videos and more.
It's just the beginning: There will be year-round free events, such as fairs and festivals, according to Blatstein.
Around the vast plaza are three new buildings that include artists' studios and boutiques, in addition to four new restaurants, 500 apartments and 50,000 square feet of office space.
A highlight of the new Piazza site is Liberties Walk, a four-block-long street collection of varied types of shops, cafes and restaurants.
"This project shows what can be done with a great team and willing people. It creates a talent center for Northern Liberties, but, more importantly, it creates a sense of place for the neighborhood and the city. I see it as a place for creative types, and for people in the city and outside of it to come," said Blatstein.
He continued: "We are getting incredible feedback from the city and beyond about how this part of Philly is being reborn for new commercial and residential use.
"When you work on something for nine years, you put a lot of yourself into it, so, obviously, you have certain expectations for its success."
Blatstein, immediate past chairman of the Jewish Publishing Group, which oversees the Jewish Exponent and Inside magazine, said: "I love what I do and am overwhelmed with the positive feedback," laughing that he does what he does because he has no hobbies.
"I suck at golf," he quipped. Besides, he joked, his wife doesn't want him hanging around the house.
The Piazza at Schmidt's is part of Blatstein's 28-acre, $500 million Northern Liberties project.
This One's for You
The $100 million Piazza began when he purchased the former Schmidt's Brewery at a sheriff's auction in January 2000.
It took two years to demolish the crumbling remnants of the site and prepare it for redevelopment.
"I was born and raised in Philly," said Blatstein, a longtime Jewish communal leader. "My company has always been in Philly and is now based in Northern Liberties, where my roots run far and deep.
"My grandfather had a pushcart at Second and Laurel streets in the 1930s, so I've always loved this area.
"My dream was to create a 'five-minute neighborhood,' where people live, shop, eat, work and play, all within a few city blocks.
"With all forms of public transit nearby, residents will have everything they need at their fingertips, enabling them to decrease their carbon footprints by never having to use a car," added Blatstein.
His idea to re-create the Piazza Navona stems from a walk that he took through a narrow street in Rome that led to the world-famous Italian square known for its beauty.
"The street came out into a grand plaza," he recalled of that walk. "It was so open and full of life. I thought it was the ultimate way to live, so, since then, I wanted to bring that feeling to Philly."
The final phase of the project will incorporate the Shops at Schmidt's -- a two-story, 100,000-square-foot, supermarket-anchored retail site; the 600-unit Residences at Schmidt's is slated to open by 2011.
For more information, go to: www.atthepiazza.com .