Monday, July 14, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

What you're paying for, and getting from, that Dilworth Plaza renovation

Regardless of what you think of Occupy Philly, the protesters have a point about the Dilworth Plaza project.

What you're paying for, and getting from, that Dilworth Plaza renovation

The planned $50 million makeover of Dilworth Plaza calls for two, 27-foot-tall glass structures to house a cafe and an entry to the Septa concourse. There would be a lawn on the south end and a fountain on the north end that could be used for ice skating in the winter. The proposal would eliminate the existing plaza’s multiple levels. (Center City District, Kieran Timberlake and Olin)
The planned $50 million makeover of Dilworth Plaza calls for two, 27-foot-tall glass structures to house a cafe and an entry to the Septa concourse. There would be a lawn on the south end and a fountain on the north end that could be used for ice skating in the winter. The proposal would eliminate the existing plaza’s multiple levels. (Center City District, Kieran Timberlake and Olin)

Regardless of what you think of Occupy Philly, the protesters have a point about the Dilworth Plaza project.

It’s a $50-million, large-scale renovation funded almost entirely by taxpayers — and that means we should pay close attention to it. It also means we shouldn’t rush to praise (or condemn) it. So we followed the money and talked to Paul Levy, the president of the Center City District, who dreamt up the project. Here’s what we found: 

First, the main features:

  • Cafe for more than 100 people
  • 185 x 60 fountain
  • Public art installation
  • Large lawn, where movies and concerts will be hosted
  • Walkway from 15th to Market Street
  • New elevators, trees and increased handicap accessibility

The money for the project came from four main sources:

  • $15 million from the feds, via a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program grant
  • $15.5 million grant pitched in by Pennsylvania
  • $5 million from the city’s capital program
  • $4.3 million from SEPTA and additional funds from foundation, corporate and private donations

But $5 million isn’t the only thing the city chipped in.

  • The city also gave the Center City District a free-of-charge lease for the “front yard” of City Hall.
  • The lease is for 30 years.
  • Levy said the lease has to be for 30 years — even though the construction is only expected to take 27 months — due to the state grant, which requires that the developer maintain control of the site for that time period.
  • Levy also said that, in return, the Center City District will be responsible for maintenance and operating costs for those 30 years. That means it’ll be on the hook for security, cleaning, lighting and other services at Dilworth Plaza. Levy estimates that will cost about $1.2 million annually.

Won’t parts of this site generate money?

  • While talking about the lease, Levy maintained, “We are leasing it to create a totally public plaza. We don't make money on this thing.”
  • But parts of it, like the cafe and ice-skating rink, could bring in money, right? Yes, but Levy said that will go right back into Dilworth Plaza’s maintenance costs. After that, “if extra money is made, it will lower the costs of the ice-skating rink or other things,” he explained.
  • Levy said that funds generated at Dilworth Plaza have to stay at Dilworth Plaza — so, for instance, they couldn’t go toward another project at Center City District. He said this stipulation has been written into the lease with the city.

So how many jobs will be created?

  • The number of constructions jobs that has been quoted by the city and Center City District is 800. That’s true, according to Levy, but it’s also a little more complicated than that. Those are 800 jobs over the period of 27 months, meaning that one construction worker might be employed for just a few weeks, while another might be on the job for a year. “It’s not 800 solid jobs,” explained Levy.
  • Levy said 20 to 25 permanent jobs will be created.

How many public meetings were held for the project?

  • Again, the number often quoted by the Center City District has been 50 — but it’s more complicated than that. Levy said that refers to both Council hearings and private events like editorial board meetings.
  • Levy said there were about five or six publicly-advertised, formal meetings. They were at the Art Commission, Historical Commission, Planning Commission and City Council. He said the first of these was in late 2008.

Where is the $50 million going?

  • $42 million in construction costs
  • $3 million in construction management, which includes overseeing the work and processing payments to contractors, among other things
  • $2 million in public and digital art
  • $4 million “to get to where we are today,” according to Levy, which included the bidding process.

How much will specific parts of the project cost, like the ice-skating rink or cafe?

  • Levy said most of those details aren’t available yet, because the general contractor, Daniel J. Keating Company, was just named this week. He said they will be available in about a month.
  • However, Daniel J. Keating will receive most of the funds, Levy said, and distribute them to various subcontractors.
  • Levy did provide a few more details about the public and digital art costs, which will total $2 million. He said those costs will go toward a Dilworth Plaza app, digital screens and art that tells the history of the site. It will also cover some of artist Janet Echelman’s installation that “will trace the path of trains traveling on the three lines below the plaza in real time … Thin columns of dry mist will emanate from the fountain, evoking the water from the city’s first water-pumping station that was located on this site as well as the steam from the trains at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station that was located across the street. Echelman's use of dry mist enables people to walk through the installation without getting wet.”

How did Daniel J. Keating become the project’s contractor?

  • According to Levy, a competitive-bidding process that met federal, state and local guidelines was used.
  • A Center City District press release also noted that the bids were advertised in the Inky, Daily News and Philadelphia Tribune this summer.

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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