Designing waterfront without casinos

April 28

By Matt Blanchard
For PlanPhilly

In their battle to stop the construction of two casinos on the Delaware riverfront, anti-casino activists have raised many questions: Will the casinos increase poverty and crime? Will they hurt property values? Are they even legal?
Now one contingent of anti-casino campaigners is asking a different question: What happens if we actually win?
Neighbors Allied for the Best Waterfront (NABR), one of two larger anti-casino coalitions, convened a citizen planning forum on Saturday to discuss the casino-free future of the Delaware Riverfront. It’s one of at least four overlapping efforts to plan parts of the waterfront right now, including the city-sponsored PennPraxis process.
NABR’s forum focused only on the two casino sites, Foxwoods in South Philadelphia and Sugarhouse in Fishtown. Both are slated to occupy large, roughly rectangular development sites with ample frontage on the river itself. About 35 residents and design professionals put pencil to trace paper and sketched alternate proposals for both sites – inspirational visions, perhaps, for others who might take up the anti-casino cause.
In park-starved South Philadelphia, NABR would replace Foxwoods with a world-class, art and activity-rich open space with a water-park, marina, restaurants and grand fountain.
“I see this space as a world destination spot, something like what Seattle’s got in their new Olympic park,” said resident Marsha Moss. “Whatever we do here must be done to the highest standards.”
In close-knit Fishtown, NABR would replace Sugarhouse with a low-scaled traditional Philadelphia neighborhood, with small streets and a broad riverfront esplanade.
“What’s not in South Philadelphia?” asked architect Shawn Rairigh. “Well, there’s really no large recreation space, except for Roosevelt Park in the far south.”
Rairigh argued that making the right move on the Foxwoods site, perhaps with a combination of iconic structures and public spaces, could be the catalyst for a new, more urban development pattern to replace Columbus Boulevard’s almost suburban sprawl.
Images of both plans are available here.
NABR co-founder Jeremy Beaudry said Saturday’s charrette (or design workshop) was meant to complement the PennPraxis planning effort – but also represented a revolt against that effort’s neutral stance toward casinos.
Praxis was authorized by Mayor Street to produce a master plan for all seven miles of the Central Delaware Riverfront.
For months, Praxis director Harris Steinberg has resisted calls by anti-casino activists  to design that master plan without casinos. Key stakeholders in the effort, such as PennDot, have even threatened to abandon the effort should the master plan take an anti-casino turn. They argue that they are charged with looking at seven miles of waterfront and so long as casinos are mandated by state law, planners must work around them.
NABR’s Beaudry, also a citizen advisor to PennPraxis, said it was time for his organization to strike out on its own.
“We saw what was supposed to be a casino-neutral process going in a casino direction,” he said.
“This here is a group of citizens putting forth their vision of the waterfront,” Beaudry said. “And the thing about a strong vision is that it can actually be a force in changing minds and making things happen.”
 
NABR Design Professionals who attended charrette:
Planners:
Mark Keener, Brown & Keener Bressi
Shawn Rairigh, Kise Straw & Kolodner
Historians:
Sarah Thorp
Elizabeth Burling, Kise Straw & Kolodner
Transportation:
Frank Jasciewicz, JzTI
Martin Hull, Kise Straw & Koldner
Tim Lidiak, Gannett Flemming
Architecture:
Larry McEwan, McEwan Architecture
David Artman, Kise Straw & Kolodner
Timothy Peters, Qb
Landscape Architecture:
Brian Haynes, Olin Partnership
 

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