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 firstname.lastname@example.org