Bill McDowell: Designing on Philadelphia's parkway

Interview and article prepared for the Philadelphia Business Journal, as filed yesterday, without edits, to run in next Friday’s edition.

mcdowellbill.jpgOh, Bill McDowell has built in Philadelphia before.

He was chosen as senior building executive for the design and construction of the new Philadelphia home of the Barnes Foundation on the back of a career of construction in this city.Now he’s charged with helping bring one of the most celebrated art collections in the world to the city in which he was born and raised.

“I have had a lot of experience in the city of Philadelphia,” McDowell, 50, said. Like helping develop the concept for the expansion of the Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse on the campus of St. Joseph’s University, and being involved in the planning of the 30th Street Station rail yards, and heading the redevelopment of Reading Terminal Headhouse, now the front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, as part of the city’s Redevelopment Authority in the 1990s.

“But, by far this is the most important project I’ve ever worked on,” he said. “A project like this might just come around once in a century.”With the hiring of McDowell, who works with the architects, consultants and will hire the construction team, the new building’s design has begun.“It’s full steam ahead. Not only is this a go, it’s ‘can we go any faster?” he said. “The conceptual design process will be done this year, what it will look like. The technical aspects, we will continue to work on into 2009.”The first step is to design how the building will be situated on its future site, a high profile and, to some, controversial lot on Center City’s Ben Franklin Parkway.“I always thought the parkway in Philadephia is under utilized. The creation of density is what Philadelphia needs… to move it from being primarily an auto to a pedestrian route,” he said. “But we’re interested in retaning the qualities of the current building, to see the uniqueness and its intimacy preserved.”But one of Philadelphia’s sons has had to take a professional move to the ‘burbs, by the way of Lower Merion, the current headquarters of Barnes, for now.“For work, I have a 610 area code now, it’s tough,” he said. “At least my cell phone is still 215.”