Developers try to ease Ardmore's construction woes with kid-friendly 'Big Dig' event

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Ardmore Initiative is teaming up with local businesses to present the Big Dig on Saturday, June 24th.

Update: Due to rain, the Big Dig will take place on Sunday, June 25.

Since the dawn of the dump truck, heavy equipment has fascinated a segment of humanity. Is it the vehicles’ size? Their horsepower? The noise they make? The things they make?

These and more heavy-duty charms go on display for three hours this weekend in downtown Ardmore, when slow-moving mechanical beasts star in the kid-centric pop-up the Big Dig.

The free event is planned for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday along Cricket Avenue near Lancaster Avenue. (Rain date is same time Sunday.) It’s a community kickoff, of sorts, for Dranoff Properties’ long-anticipated construction of One Ardmore Place. Harkins Builders, with headquarters in Maryland and an office in Media, is the job’s contractor. Representatives from both companies will be onsite, demonstrating machinery and answering questions.

Questions and concerns are something Ardmore residents have had more than a few of over the decade since One Ardmore Place was first proposed. There have been protests over the building’s design, concerns about parking (the project occupies 150 spaces in the 175-space Cricket Avenue parking lot), and a lawsuit over the use of public money ($10.5 million from the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program) that will partially finance the $58 million, eight-story, 110-unit luxury apartment building.

It has taken since 2007, but Philly’s Dranoff has prevailed. Harkins broke ground on the 228,000-square-foot lot in March. Construction is slated to last until spring of 2019.

Aside from a couple of weeks of a street closure, things have gone smoothly, said Christine Vilardo, executive director of Ardmore Initiative, the town’s business-improvement district.

“The anticipation [of the construction] was worse than the reality,” said Vilardo. “The construction workers are really managing the site exceptionally well. They’re cleaning the street. They’re sensitive to noise, responsive to concerns. And the kids in the day-care center that faces onto the lot have been having a blast.”

That last part is of particular interest to Carrie Kohs, owner of nearby Cricket Avenue toy shop pucciManuli.

“The suburbs don’t see construction like the city sees construction,” she said. “When it happens, it’s an event in and of itself.”

Kohs’ background is in corporate marketing and advertising — “heavy events,” she said. She recalled first hearing about the project in early 2015, when she had “this nugget of an idea, a riff on touch-a-truck.”

With ample time to plan, support from Ardmore Initiative and merchants, and the go-ahead from Dranoff and Harkins, Kohs devised a smaller, temporary take on Diggerland, the Berlin Township, N.J., construction-themed amusement park.

Saturday’s Big Dig begins at Kohs’ shop, where 300 online-registered guests will pick up construction-themed goody bags (temporary tattoos, coloring sheets, crayons, stickers, lanyards) and toy hard hats. Two doors away at Viking Pastries, Big Diggers can decorate cookies in the shape of dump trucks.

A lot across the street from the One Ardmore Place site will have interactive stations: toy equipment to push, snacks to make, giant foam Imagination Playground blocks — on loan from nearby child-play cafe Lulu’s Casita — to build with, and authentic construction-site dirt to play in. (In light of recent news about lead-poisoned soil, a statement from a Dranoff representative said the dirt conformed to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s lead-safety guidelines, which, for a children’s play area, means fewer than 400 parts per million.)

Grownups will be on hand to help folks cross Cricket Avenue to tour the fenced-off site. Hawkins’ workers will show off two excavators, a skid steer, and a dump truck, while offering insights on building techniques and safety. The latter will likely include admonitions to avoid the 20-foot-deep hole they’ve recently dug.

If all of this sounds like a developer’s ploy to win over Ardmore residents’ hearts and minds, well, it wouldn’t be the first time. Dranoff did something similar with his One Riverside condos at 25th and Locust Streets — to much admiration, according to the Dranoff representative, who added that developer Carl Dranoff himself would be on hand this weekend. Wrote the rep: “I can’t imagine him missing it because being on a construction site is Carl’s favorite place to be.”

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