2015 on the Delaware River waterfront

There’s something new at the corner of Columbus Boulevard and Tasker Street. It caught my eye the other day as I was gassing up my car across the way: It’s bright, it’s clean, and it’s not at all in keeping with the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware riverfront that was started under former Mayor John Street and brought to fruition under Mayor Michael Nutter, who leaves office in a couple weeks.

It’s the new AAA auto-repair facility, which has been the subject of ongoing appeals and litigation for well over a year. The details of that case don’t need rehashing; in sum, AAA applied for a permit to build the facility one day before the new Central Delaware Zoning Overlay, which would have prohibited it, went into effect. The Master Plan for the Central Delaware is intended to promote the redevelopment of the waterfront into a vibrant, walkable, residential, commercial, and recreational destination. Though the new AAA facility is distinctly not the fenced-off vacant lot it used to be, it doesn’t necessarily call out to pedestrians.

You lose some, but you also win some.

Two miles north, just on the other side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, PMC Property Group has made notable headway on the construction of a 250-unit apartment complex called One Water Street. The project took advantage of some of the bonuses contained in the zoning overlay by providing some reduced-rate apartment units and public space. It’s being built entirely by right, signaling to advocacy groups that the zoning overlay is a well-designed, workable set of guidelines. The Civic Design Review Committee had general praise for the project, but, along with some community members, suggested that the public space was a bit lacking. As of late this summer, the developers told Philadelphia Magazine that they’d be incorporating some retail space into the project and that leasing could start early next year.

At Spring Garden Street, a few blocks north, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation selected the Jefferson Apartment Group and Haverford Properties to build 550 apartments, restaurants, and retail space at Festival Pier. As my colleague Ashley Hahn wrote earlier this year, the Festival Pier project will be a real test of market demand on the waterfront, as well as a test of the new zoning rules that are in place there.

“Public control means there is no excuse for not getting Festival Pier just right,” Hahn wrote. “DRWC is driving this process and advocates will be able to participate in the redevelopment process at every step. It’s an extraordinary chance to send a strong message about the caliber and character of private development and public space that Philly expects for the Delaware waterfront.”

We’ll look forward to seeing how that project evolves next year.

DRWC, which changed its bylaws in order to “mayor-proof” its board late last year, made a lot of news in 2015. Aside from reopening the now-perennial favorite Spruce Street Harbor Park, DRWC unveiled a redeveloped Pier 68 as a public park, and pushed the city to pursue acquisition—by eminent domain—of a few key portions of the Central Delaware trail. In March, DRWC announced that it had made an agreement to buy trail space behind the Sheet Metal Workers site at 1301 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard.   

Bart Blatstein and Joe Volpe are planning a renovation of the Delaware Power Station, the hulking former PECO plant next to Penn Treaty Park. The proposal calls for two event spaces for weddings and corporate events, two restaurants, and a large surface parking lot. The Central Delaware Advocacy Group, which doesn’t necessarily dream of parking lots on the waterfront, considers the project a victory for historic preservation.

Upriver, Bridesburg is getting closer to having its own park on the waterfront, and the Delaware City River Corporation is hoping to build out more of the Kensington & Tacony Trail. Downriver, the S. S. United States continues to hang on by a thread.

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