Despite severe budget cutbacks that have put many city projects on hold, Mayor Nutter intends to announce at a news conference today that he will authorize $2 million worth of planning and design work for a recreation trail along the Delaware River, a new park at Pier 11, and a formal master plan for the central waterfront.
The city cobbled together money for the projects by combining a new $1 million grant from the William Penn Foundation with existing state and city money. The funding will allow the city to hire consultants to prepare a zoning map for the seven-mile stretch of the Delaware waterfront between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues.
By proceeding now with the three projects, the city is trying to maintain the momentum for the development sequence outlined last year in PennPraxis' Action Plan for the Central Delaware.
In January, the Nutter administration fulfilled the plan's first recommendation by replacing the Penn's Landing Corp. with a new agency that has broader powers, the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.
"This is how waterfront development starts," said Commerce Director Andrew Altman, who will chair the group. He said the mayor's spending plan was "a signal of confidence" during tough economic times.
Altman said a large part of the $2 million would go toward creating a zoning map that included a street grid and the alignment of the new trail. The intent is to identify locations for new parks and public river access. The city also expects to put on the fast track a design for a green park on Pier 11, at the foot of Race Street, and to open the space to the public by September.
Although virtually all private waterfront construction has stalled since the meltdown in the real estate market, the hope is that creating parks and trails will make the largely undeveloped edge of the Delaware more attractive to developers when the economy turns around.
"This economic crisis is real, but we have to keep focused on the long term," said Shawn McCaney, the program officer at the William Penn Foundation who has headed its waterfront efforts. "If we don't do this, we'll be less competitive in the future and will fall behind."
The foundation initially turned its attention to the Delaware waterfront because Philadelphia lagged so far behind other cities in exploiting the potential of the former industrial land along its big river.
The foundation started by funding the PennPraxis study. It is also contributing significantly to the construction of a trail run from the Ben Franklin Bridge to Reed Street in South Philadelphia. The first leg is expected to be completed by late summer.
"Our intent was to create an appetite for planning the waterfront," McCaney said. "Our hope is that ownership of the planning process will transfer to the Delaware River Corp. and the city, and then we can step back."
Contact architecture critic Inga Saffron at 215-854-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.