Commentary: Remaking Philly's Delaware waterfront

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A rendering shows a proposed waterfront park.

Due to bold leadership and vision, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unlock the potential of Philadelphia's Central Delaware River waterfront by reconnecting Penn's Landing to the city's historic core is at hand.

Fittingly, Mayor Kenney's announcement comes as the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. (DRWC) is celebrating the fifth anniversary of the master plan for the Central Delaware. The Penn's Landing plan was born from this community-driven, city-adopted action plan for redeveloping of six miles of the waterfront.

The strategy is simple: Build a park every half-mile along the river, connected by a multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail that ties back to the adjoining neighborhoods through improved streets and transit, creating access to the river where none existed.

With the help of our governmental and philanthropic partners, engaged residents, and neighborhood organizations, DRWC designed, funded, and built beautiful new parks at Race Street Pier (2011), Washington Avenue Pier (2014), and Pier 68 (2015). We also have secured the majority of the land and funding to complete the Delaware River Trail from Penn Treaty Park to Pier 68 in South Philadelphia.

Our connector street projects involved installing high-impact lighting and landscaping improvements under I-95 to make the transition to the river safer and more attractive. Spring Garden Street is the largest and most recent of these improvements.

In addition, DRWC created dynamic new public spaces at Spruce Street Harbor Park (2013), Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest (2014), and Summerfest (2015) to complement the diverse offering of free public programming we produce at Penn's Landing. These new destinations, completed within the guidelines of the master plan, draw well over one million annual visitors and already have spurred high-quality private development around them.

For example, the success of the Race Street Pier and connector shows how small-scale projects funded by the public sector can lead to large-scale investments by the private sector. Since the development of the Pier in 2011, a very successful seasonal restaurant opened at Morgan's Pier; a new restaurant and performance venue for Fringe Arts have been built across the street in one of the city's old water pumping stations; and two new residential buildings are now leasing, adding 800 new residents to the area.

The new park at Penn's Landing is expected to produce similar results. Once completed, it will seamlessly reconnect the waterfront to the city's historic core by means of a 12-acre, beautifully landscaped civic space that will flow across I-95 and Columbus Boulevard down to the river between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.

This project will also create hundreds of construction jobs, thousands of permanent jobs, increase the city's tax base, and boost overall economic activity along the Delaware. This $225 million investment is projected to generate a return of $1.6 billion in economic benefit over the next 25 years. That's a 17-fold return on the $90 million the city is contributing to the project.

If we have learned one thing over the past five years, it's to keep moving forward. So while the new park at Penn's Landing is being built, DRWC will work on the next five years: completing the Delaware River Trail, creating new neighborhood parks, working with developers to realize a thriving mixed-use development at Spring Garden Street, and enhancing more connections to the waterfront. There is so much more to be done to make every neighborhood feel a part of the Delaware in a meaningful way.

Tom Corcoran is president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. president@drwc.org

To learn more about DRWC and the master plan, and become involved, visit www.drwc.org.