Northeast Times

City's final draft of Delaware River master plan draws praise

A crowd gave the city's plan for the cent­ral Delaware River wa­ter­front a warm re­cep­tion last week. The ef­fort could see big changes along the river in North­ern Liber­ties and Fishtown.

Phil­adelphia Wa­ter­front Mas­ter Plan un­veil­ing at the Pa­vil­ion at Fest­iv­al Pier, Monday, June 13, 2011.

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A walk­able wa­ter­front.

Miles of bike trails.

A wa­ter taxi that con­nects to 11 stops along a vi­brant, di­verse wa­ter­front.

Twelve new or ren­ov­ated pub­lic parks and amen­it­ies, one at every half-mile along a 6-mile span of wa­ter­front.

These aren’t high­lights from a bro­chure of a far away des­tin­a­tion.

It could be the fu­ture of the Delaware River wa­ter­front here in Phil­adelphia and, as presen­ted last week, the real­ity of this wa­ter­front vis­ion is closer than some may think.

Or­gan­izers said last week that some large ele­ments of the over­all wa­ter­front plan could be com­pleted with­in five years.

And that wa­ter taxi? It could be trans­port­ing pas­sen­gers to stops along the wa­ter­front be­fore the end of next sum­mer.

But it could be at least 25 years be­fore all ele­ments are in place.

Rep­res­ent­at­ives from city gov­ern­ment and the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Cor­por­a­tion — which spent the last 18 months put­ting to­geth­er the pro­ject — un­veiled the mas­ter plan for the Delaware River wa­ter­front on Monday, June 13, in an event held at Fest­iv­al Pier, off of Delaware Av­en­ue at Spring Garden Street.

“This is ex­cit­ing, I’m go­ing to leave it at that,” said May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter dur­ing his ap­pear­ance in front of a crowd of hun­dreds gathered at the pier. “We’ve been wait­ing for this for a long time.”

In present­ing the mas­ter plan, which would cost about $770 mil­lion to im­ple­ment, Nut­ter said the wa­ter­front plan would not only re­vital­ize stag­nant de­vel­op­ment on the wa­ter­front, but would also be a design uniquely Phil­adelphi­an.

“I’m truly ex­cited. I ac­tu­ally have a little bit of awe,” he said. “We don’t want to spend time look­ing like any­one else. This is Phil­adelphia’s wa­ter­front.”

As presen­ted, the plan is de­signed to come alive through a num­ber of sep­ar­ate pro­jects. In­stead of one big build, as Alex Cooper of Cooper Robertson and Part­ners — part of the team that de­signed the plan — put it, the wa­ter­front would be de­veloped with a series of parks “like pearls on a string.”

“We aren’t try­ing to get rid of the piers as some oth­er cit­ies have done, we are work­ing with them,” said Cooper as he in­tro­duced the designs for the wa­ter­front parks that are in­cluded in the plan.

Each of these parks, which would meet the con­nect­or streets — lar­ger streets like Spring Garden that run east to west to the river — to al­low ease of ac­cess to the parks, loc­ated at about every half mile on the wa­ter’s edge between Ore­gon and Al­legheny av­en­ues.

Each park is dif­fer­ent, with ele­ments re­flect­ing as­pects of the sur­round­ing area.

North of Spring Garden Street, the his­tor­ic Delaware Power Sta­tion, loc­ated just north of Penn Treaty Park, could be over­hauled in a way that would re­tain the in­dus­tri­al and his­tor­ic­al as­pects of the build­ing while trans­form­ing it in­to an out­door 6,000-per­son per­form­ance ven­ue, sim­il­ar to what Penn’s Land­ing is now.

But that’s just one of many ideas. There would be 10 new parks throughout the wa­ter­front. North of Spring Garden Street, that would in­clude im­ple­ment­ing last year’s mas­ter plan for Penn Treaty Park and bring­ing renov­a­tions to Port Rich­mond’s Pu­laski Park, while cre­at­ing new parks at Cum­ber­land Street, Le­high Av­en­ue and Berks Street, where a beach could be cre­ated with vol­ley­ball courts.

Cooper said that at each of these parks, there could be places for private boat docks to al­low res­id­ents ac­cess to the wa­ter­front.

“You can’t for­get wa­ter,” he said. “As soon as you get some stops, the boats will come.”

But, Cooper re­minded the crowd, while the plan presen­ted last week was a fi­nal draft, it was still open to in­ter­pret­a­tion.

In the next dec­ades — Cooper said some of the ele­ments of the plan could take 40 years or more — pro­jects could be altered. In fact, that even­ing, the or­gan­izers took com­ments and sug­ges­tions from the audi­ence.

The plan will not be con­sidered fi­nal un­til after it has gone through the City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion and is ap­proved by City Coun­cil. That is ex­pec­ted to hap­pen some­time in the fall, but it will not hap­pen un­til after an­oth­er series of up­com­ing pub­lic meet­ings on the plan.

Once the plan is fi­nally ap­proved, there are three areas where the city can be­gin mak­ing im­prove­ments im­me­di­ately.

Due to prop­erty is­sues — less than 10 per­cent of the cent­ral Delaware’s wa­ter­front land is cur­rently pub­licly owned — it might take quite some time to ob­tain the par­cels tar­geted through the mas­ter plan.

Sarah Thorp, mas­ter plan­ning man­ager at the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Cor­por­a­tion, said the pro­ject will take time, but by tak­ing on the right pro­jects first and mov­ing for­ward, ad­di­tion­al pro­jects could be star­ted and ne­ces­sary per­mis­sions or agree­ments with private land own­ers might be more eas­ily ne­go­ti­ated.

“We are not go­ing to just flip a switch and have this all be re­developed,” she cau­tioned.

Plan­ners have de­cided to be­gin where the city has the most pub­licly owned prop­erty — Wash­ing­ton Av­en­ue, Penn’s Land­ing and Spring Garden. There, they hope the plan can get a foot­ing and be­gin the mul­ti­dec­ade task of growth.

Where Spring Garden Street meets the river, a new mixed use piazza could be built. In­stead of mostly mu­ni­cip­al uses, the idea is to bring res­id­en­tial use as well as com­mer­cial uses to the wa­ter­front.

Here, Thorp said, Delaware Av­en­ue would see im­prove­ments that would make it less of a high­way and more of a green, walk­able boulevard, so that loc­al res­id­ents could eas­ily walk to shops and amen­it­ies.

If this plan proves agree­able, Thorp said the Spring Garden Street sec­tion of the pro­ject could be star­ted quickly, since the large Fest­iv­al Pier and abut­ting in­cin­er­at­or site are cur­rently city owned.

With com­mer­cial uses here a pos­sib­il­ity, in­vest­ment from private en­tit­ies could help pro­gress this ele­ment of the pro­ject as well, she said.

“We think we could do this really soon,” she said, say­ing it could be com­pleted in five to sev­en years if everything falls in­to place.

Over­all, the large crowd seemed to ap­prove of the plan, of­ten cheer­ing as the or­gan­izers presen­ted vari­ous ele­ments — al­most up­roari­ous when told wa­ter tax­is could float on the river some­time late next year.

At the end of the meet­ing, one ques­tion seemed most im­port­ant: would this really be the plan that gets done and re­vital­izes the Delaware River wa­ter­front?

Fin­an­cially, the plan presents the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pro­ject as af­ford­able, if fund­ing is ob­tained in pieces. Broken down, about $356 mil­lion would need to be paid up front as an in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment, while the re­main­ing $414 mil­lion could be ob­tained through the years the pro­ject is be­ing de­veloped.

Of that, about $348 mil­lion would be state and fed­er­al grant fund­ing, with an­oth­er $174 mil­lion gathered through rev­en­ues — park­ing lot rev­en­ue, land value of leased pub­lic lands and oth­er sources — leav­ing the city and state to raise $248 mil­lion over the next three dec­ades, or as pro­posed, $8.25 mil­lion per year.

“People want to see more and there’s more for us to do,” said Nut­ter. “This could be an in­cred­ible op­por­tun­ity to raise the pro­file of Phil­adelphia.”

He said that the plan could prove a good in­vest­ment for the com­munity and as plan­ners noted they hope to be ag­gress­ive in the first five years of this pro­ject, it could help bring in the fund­ing that will need to make the plan a real­ity.

Tom Corcor­an, pres­id­ent of the DRWC, said that will oth­er pro­jects already un­der­way on the river­front – like the Delaware River Port Au­thor­ity’s plans for a light rail on the wa­ter­front – im­prove­ments have already star­ted.

“People ask me, ‘Is it really go­ing to hap­pen?’” said Corcor­an, pres­id­ent of the DRWC. “That trans­form­a­tion has already be­gun.”

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

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You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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