The long-slumbering ghost beneath one of William Penn's five original Philadelphia squares is about to awaken.

The 73-year-old subway station beneath Franklin Square, last used in 1979, will be remodeled and reopened to PATCO commuter trains, Delaware River Port Authority chairman John Estey said yesterday.

Development around Franklin Square, at Sixth and Race Streets, and the rebirth of the once-seedy square have convinced authority officials that the station will have what it had lacked: passengers.

The National Constitution Center, the boom in Northern Liberties, and redevelopment of the old Metropolitan Hospital as MetroClub condominiums have brought renewed bustle to a square isolated by streets and Benjamin Franklin Bridge ramps.

The station eventually could become part of a proposed PATCO expansion along the Philadelphia waterfront.

Four other subterranean PATCO stations in Philadelphia and two in Camden also will get face-lifts this year, with new flooring, lights, security cameras, and stainless-steel columns, port authority officials said yesterday. The upgrades, which require board approval next month, will cost about $9.6 million and be paid for with the agency's controversial "economic development" money.

Franklin Square Station has been preserved much as it was when it closed. PATCO riders can still glimpse its shadowy platforms and green-and-white tiled walls on their way to and from New Jersey.

But the gaudy orange foyer, with its 1970s-era fare lists (35 cents to Philadelphia stations, 75 cents to Lindenwold) and multilingual instructions on "How to Go PATCO," have long been hidden from view.

The port authority's consulting engineers are examining the station to determine how much work is needed to reopen it. Chief executive John Matheussen estimated it would cost at least $5 million to $10 million to install elevators and make the station meet modern standards.

No date is set for the reopening.

The dilapidated 71/2-acre square above the station was renovated in 2006 by nonprofit Historic Philadelphia Inc., which maintains it. A restored 1838 fountain, a carousel, and a miniature golf course draw visitors, and a restaurant - funded with part of a $2.5 million economic-development grant from the port authority - is about to be built.

"With the enhancements there, we anticipate more people will use it than had in the past," Matheussen said. "We're anticipating more traffic."

This will be at least the fifth opening for Franklin Square Station.

It debuted in 1936 as the first Philadelphia stop on the Camden-Philadelphia rail line owned by the Delaware River Joint River Commission and operated by the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co.

The station soon closed because it got little use. Increased activity on the riverfront during World War II prompted its reopening.

Closed again after the war, the station was reactivated in 1953 when the line was extended from Eighth and Market Streets to 15th and Locust Streets. It was soon closed again for lack of use. PATCO took over the line in 1969.

In 1976, when Philadelphia was a center of the nation's Bicentennial celebration, PATCO spent $1.1 million to renovate and reopen Franklin Square Station. It closed again in 1979.

The station now serves as an occasional storage site for construction crews working in the PATCO tunnel. It has electrical power to operate the dim emergency lights that remain and to provide air-compressor power for rail switches.

Cleaning crews go through to pick up debris, and the station is inspected every two years.

One challenge for the new station will be the same as in the past: to get riders safely through the swirling street traffic that surrounds the Franklin Square.

Old green exit signs that read "To 7th Street" and "To Race Street" are propped against subway walls, and plywood covers the tunnel entrances to which they directed commuters. The reopened station will have new outside openings to make it easier for people to use the subway, probably on the south side of Race Street.

"If they open that station, I would use it," said Norman Bell, who works security in Franklin Square and commutes from Camden. "It would make it easier for me."

Brian Toledo, 16, of Northern Liberties, called the square his main hangout and he said he would use PATCO.

"It would reduce the walking and bring more people to the square," Toledo said.

The six other underground Philadelphia and Camden stops on the PATCO line need upgrades to make them safer and more attractive, Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash, the port authority's vice chairman, said yesterday.

"As a PATCO commuter for 10 years, my three concerns were the fare-collection system, security, and the accommodations," he said. "We took care of the fare collection, and now we're addressing the other two."

The concrete floors will be covered with nonporous resin that will be more resistant to odors, and new lighting and cameras will improve security, said Robert Gross, the authority's deputy chief executive.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey each will contribute $4.8 million from the state's economic-development funds to pay for the work. The port authority has been criticized by angry bridge tollpayers for using more than $380 million in economic-development money for museums, sports arenas, and concert halls.

In other business yesterday, the authority's board heard from a group that wants it to rescind a $500,000 grant made in 2003 to help pay for the planned move of the Barnes Foundation's world-class art collection in Merion to a new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

About a dozen members of the Friends of the Barnes Foundation addressed the board, and others carried signs protesting the move.

Robert Zaller, a Drexel University history professor, called the move "the greatest art theft since World War II."

"Your $500,000 is a drop in this bucket, but you have the opportunity to be the first public servants to say no," Zaller told the board.

Estey, the board chairman, said staff would reexamine the circumstances of the grant and respond to the citizens' group "shortly."

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writer St. John Barned-Smith contributed to this article.