Riverfront vision and overlay, Round 2

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April 24

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

The first-ever regular board meeting for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., which replaced the controversial Penn’s Landing Corp. in January, was held Friday morning at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing.

“The goal … is to begin to lay a foundation of understanding the waterfront, our mission, the planning work that has been done to date,” and the planning and organizational work ahead of us, said Planning and Commerce Deputy Mayor Andy Altman, who chairs the DRWC’s 16-member board of directors. “It’s about getting our arms around the financial situation of the corporation.”

The organization has adopted a four-committee structure as it establishes a business plan to deal with waterfront events, planning and development, leasing and funding opportunities.

The committees and their respective chairs are: Budget and Personnel (Jay Goldstein, founder and CEO of Valley Green Bank); Planning (Marilyn Jordan Taylor, dean of Penn’s School of Design); Real Estate (Bill Hankowsky, chairman and CEO of Liberty Property Trust); and Programs and Fundraising (Diane Dalto Woosnam, chairman of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts).

Taylor said that there has been a “tremendous response” to a request-for-proposals for a Pier 11 urban design plan, to include the intersection of Race Street and Columbus Boulevard. “This is a good time to be going out for these contracts,” she said.

Pier 11, just beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, is slated to be a publicly accessible park which will serve as an early implementation of the PennPraxis Civic Vision for the Central Delaware. Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis, gave the board an overview slide presentation of the Central Delaware Vision, as he did Tuesday at the monthly city Planning Commission meeting, when it was officially approved to guide waterfront efforts.

The DRWC has applied for a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for Pier 11, and will be receiving funding for the project from the William Penn Foundation.

New bike path, water taxis
Altman also spoke of an interim “very simple bike path” to be built by the end of the summer, from Lombard Street south to Washington Avenue. The Center City District had originally started the effort and the $250,000 it had in reserve will be used, along with a matching amount from the DRWC, he said.

Another project, one with an uncertain timeline, involves an expansion of RiverLink, the ferry system that makes runs between Penn’s Landing and the Camden waterfront. Using boats already owned by the city, the new water taxi service would take riders from Penn’s Landing along four newly constructed landings, north and south, along the Philadelphia side of the river. Federal funds accessed through the Port Authority (more than $980,000) and awarded in 2003 will be matched locally with another $240,000. There is no obligation to spend it immediately, Altman said, so thoughtful planning for the proper locations and timing will be employed. One location will almost certainly be the SugarHouse Casino, slated for the parcel just south of Penn Treaty Park.

On tap for the real estate committee is an inventory of the properties owned by the city and the DRWC to develop a business strategy for private development opportunities. Altman also said a charrette is being planned to go over as many of the past development proposals for the Great Plaza as can be found, to assess ideas going forward and help manage expectations.

There was good news about the Blue Cross RiverRink, which recently completed its eighth year of operations and its third straight year in the black. In addition, there will be events every weekend at Penn’s Landing this summer from Memorial Day through Labor Day – a public announcement detailing the schedule is to be released next week.

The not-so-good news is that Independence Blue Cross has been lost as a summer sponsor, though Altman hinted that he’s trying to reverse that decision.

SEE CED and OVERLAY REFERENCE MATERIAL BELOW 

The Vision thing
Beyond those and other administrative reports, the meeting was sort of a more laid-back version of Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, with many of the same people in attendance and speaking. (PlanPhilly, April 21: http://www.planphilly.com/node/8748)

After Steinberg’s presentation, Brian Abernathy (Councilman Frank DiCicco’s director of policy) gave an overview of the interim zoning overlay that will accompany the drafting of a riverfront master plan over the next 12 to 14 months.

“Our goal in this is to do no harm,” said Abernathy, stressing the overlay’s flexibility. “This isn’t meant to provide every detail of the Civic Vision. It’s a placeholder.”

That said, he added: “It’s also clear that the time for transactional zoning” – where you simply have a developer, a politician and a landowner in a room – “is over.”

(Abernathy also revealed, in response to a question about it, that he and DiCicco are preparing legislation to remove the “Commercial Entertainment District” zoning from the former intended site of the Foxwoods Casino, on Columbus Boulevard, now that Foxwoods has settled on 8th and Market for its location.)

Craig Schelter, executive director of the Developers Workshop Inc., again raised concerns on the part of the developers and private owners he represents, just as his colleague Michael Sklaroff (chairman of the Developers Workshop) did on Tuesday.

After that, the Civic Vision was defended – just like Tuesday – by members of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group.

The next board meeting is scheduled for July 31, at 8:30 a.m.

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