Dilworth Plaza 'on schedule'

Whatever happened to Dilworth Plaza? Work on the $50 million rebuild of the plaza and park west of City Hall (though not, sadly, the ill-lit Septa stations underground, as my colleague Paul Nussbaum noted here) started when police routed the Occupy Philadelphia tent city from the worn stone slabs in late 2011.

Crews dropped chain-link fence across the sidewalks and built reinforced plywood barriers to block the underground passages that used to speed walkers on cold days from 20th to 7th St., Arch to Spruce. They felled and yanked the locust trees and the gray cobbles, and piled sand, like you do for future concrete.

Until recently most of the work was underground. But last weekend, Septa closed the 15th Street station on the Market-Frankford, blocking through service for 52 hours, to replace the steel beams that will keep the new "Upper Concourse" above the tracks. The scaffolding was down by Sunday, the new beams inspected and approved, trains back for Monday rush hour. Much of the work is now visible from above.

 Crews of 50-70 workers cover the site daily, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They've gone as deep as 40 feet underground, to the disused subway tunnels that now house water run-off tanks. Workers drove piles deep for new support beams, stripped rotten concrete and replaced rebar and new surfaces. The old Phoenix Rising sculpture dedicated to reform Mayor Richardson Dilworth is gone, for a new site at 2nd and Dock. There'll be new fountains, a glass-roofed pavilion, a cafe, barrier-free corridors. Some of the old archwork stays in place. Five new elevators will link to the train lines below.

"It'll be a lot cleaner," said Arthur Littman, of Gilbane Building Co., which oversees the site for the Center City District. "It's going to feel a lot more open, a lot more safe, because of the clean sight lines." The complex was rebuilt for users, not for the fountains or works of art -- though those wil be there, too..


That's after building a "three-layer cake" of rainwater reservoirs, the new concourse and fair lanes, leading up to the concourse construction itself.

"Unlike building construction, when you dig a big hole, pour your foundation and the steel comes up out of the ground, we have spent the last year of construction excavating around three operating transit lines [Broad, Market-Frankford, West Philly trolleys, corrected] and working around essentially 100 years of infrastructure to get elevators and stairways and new steel columns in place," says Paul Levy, who runs the private, business-funded Center City District, which is overseeing general contractor Keating.

"This is a much more complex process underground... The icing on the cake," the surfaces and structures commuters and City Hall visitors will rush through, "won't really start to emerge until the second half of this year. But the work is moving very, very well, on schedule." Scheduled to open June 2014.