Big ideas for future of Penn Treaty Park

May 1, 2009
By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Penn Treaty Park could one day have an island accessible by a foot bridge, a cafe, wetlands, a fishing pier, and a covered space for a weekly farmers’ market and festivals.

These were among the possibilities presented Thursday night in the community room of Fishtown’s First Presbyterian Church, when landscape architect Bryan Hanes and his team unveiled three master plan concepts.

Hanes assembled the three concepts for the 7-acres of rare, public riverfront space based on input received at a February community forum and from an on-line survey and meetings with focus groups, which included children, neighborhood associations and environmentalists.

None of the three examples presented last night will become the master plan, which will combine elements of all of them. That was fine with the meeting-goers, who were already mashing together parts of each one as they moved from schematic to schematic. The illustrations were posted on the meeting room walls, and attendees traveled around in groups, in the style of a gallery tour. Watch as one group discusses Plan A.

The draft plan will be presented for review at a June public meeting, and Hanes will use the feedback from that meeting to create the final version of the plan, slated for a September unveiling.

The crowd that filled the meeting room Thursday definitely had favorite elements, but it was clear that they were mostly pleased with everything they saw, and delighted to see the ideas they had expressed at the last meeting included in the three samples of what the park could become.

“I like more in each plan than I don’t like,” said Donna Anderson, a Fishtown resident.

Hanes has been working with the Friends of Penn Treaty Park’s Master Plan Steering Committee. The plan will be paid for with about $100,000 in grants. About $22,500 came from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the rest from the William Penn Foundation. Additional fundraising will have to be done to implement the plan. That point was stressed by meeting moderator Joan Reilly, senior director at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Links to Hanes’ presentation and detailed views of each plan follow this story.

Anderson said if she had to choose one of the schematics to be built as-is, she’d take Plan B – the one with a bridge to an island that features a fishing pier jutting further out into the river. Every plan has some version of a cafe in it. Anderson said it should be a permanent structure – not something that floats – so that it could be used year-round, or nearly so. And it should be close to the water, not the street. What’s the point of having a cafe in a river park that’s not near the water, she wondered.

Hanes said a cafe could be a source of revenue for the park. A cafe near Delaware Avenue might draw more visitors from the street, he said. A cafe close to the water would be more focused on people who were using the park – or the planned multi-use trail that will skirt its riverfront edge. The waterside cafe building could also sell water and small snacky items to trail users, and perhaps offer bike rentals, he said. It might also have public restrooms.

Plan B also calls for eliminating Beach Street and incorporating that space into the park. The Native American sculpture now on the traffic island in front of the park would be moved to the entrance. The traffic island would no longer be an island, but the portion of the park closest to Delaware Avenue. The William Penn Statue would be moved there. “It’s the most prominent location,” Hanes said.

The majority of people at the meeting said they would be OK with moving the Penn statue, if a redesign made its current location less prominent than it is now. Others thought the statues should remain where they were placed, for historical purposes.

John Connors, director of the on-line Penn Treaty Museum and a long-time park advocate, was not at the meeting. But he said in an email that there was a long, at times difficult, series of discussions before the statue was placed where it is. It was a gift from the Daughters of the American Colonists, for the 300th anniversary of Pennsylvania, he said. And at first, the city’s art commission rejected the statue. When an agreement was finally reached, it was for that very spot, he said. “It was a gift to us that we wanted and we accepted and ALL agreed to the spot,” he wrote. A link to related documents follows this story.

Fishtown resident Chuck Valentine also liked Plan B the best – in fact, when attendees were asked which plan they would chose if one were going to be built, Plan B got the most votes. “I love the fishing pier,” Valentine said. But Valentine also really likes Plan A’s covered pavilion, the one that could be used for farmers’ markets and festivals.

Plan A’s pavilion could also be outfitted with solar cells to produce energy for the park, or to put back electricity into the grid. Another Plan A feature seemed to draw out strong reactions, both pro and con: A long promenade that would hook up with Columbia Avenue and run as a straight-shot through the park, ending with a pier. In homage to the treaty in Penn Treaty Park – the one between William Penn and the Lenni Lenape – the promenade would bear the design of the wampum belt the Lenape gave to Penn.

Each of the three schemes honored a portion of the park’s history. More attendees said they wanted the final design to honor the Treaty more than the natural history of the river or the industrial history of the area. But some were not thrilled with the promenade as designed, as a hard surface in a straight line.

“The lines are too harsh,” said Fishtown resident Susan Feenan, who grew up in Kensington. Plan A also eliminates the loop trail that now circles the park, and Feenan said she and any other parents whose kids bicycle there would miss it terribly.

But Feenan hoped the final plan would include some sort of gateway to the park, such as Plan A’s covered pavilion. She’s also pulling for Plan B’s island, which would be created by digging a large trench. “So many people will want to be out there, it might sink,” she said.

The least-liked view of the future was Plan C – no one voted for it when the crowd was asked to pick their favorite. The key feature in that plan is two piers that jut into the water, one made of concrete, and the other, grass covered. Plan C also features a swimming pool that would float in the river – a concept another organization, The Schuylkill River Heritage Area, has also been exploring. But the crowd still liked some elements of Plan C – the grassy pier, mostly. Some noted it would provide more waterfront space. No one seemed thrilled with the pool idea. “I can see the pampers floating down the river now,” said Barbara Morehead, a life-long resident and officer of the Friends of Penn Treaty Park.

Under every plan presented, the small, in-park parking lot would be eliminated. But if the community wants parking nearby, there are two options that would provide between eight and 22 new spaces to replace the 16 that would be eliminated. Those in attendance seemed fine with eliminating the in-park lot, but they wanted replacement parking nearby. And some suggested there needed to be a drop-off spot for the elderly or disabled.

Those who couldn’t attend Thursday’s meeting can still provide input on the prospective plans through an online survey. To take it, click here.

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See Hanes’ presentation, more detailed images of each plan, and documents related to the William Penn Statue:

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