Pier 11 firm selected

July 31

Previous coverage

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Field Operations bested three other finalists for the Pier 11 redo in what DRWC Director and Penn School of Design Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor described as a tough decision for her committee. The other finalists were Andropogon, Michael van Valkenburgh Associates and W Architects.

“In our discussions, one team emerged as providing the best fit with the project scope and opportunity,” Taylor said. “Deciding factors included the quality of the approach and also the match of that approach with the defined construction budget as well as the schedule expectations for the project’s completion.”

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Director and Acting Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Alan Greenberger said this was especially important since this is the DRWC’s first project. “We must succeed. We must do a good job with this,” said Greenberger, who is also the executive director of the Planning Commission.

The property is an 80-foot by 540-foot abandoned finger pier that sits at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It’s resurrection has been projected to cost between $3 million and $3.5 million, paid for with a mix of public money and a grant from the William Penn Foundation.

The Field Operations team will be led by landscape architect James Corner, a company principal, and project manager Lisa Switkin. The company is based in New York, but Corner is a 25-year Philadelphian and a Penn professor.  The Philadelphia City Planning Commission hired him in 2000 to do a comprehensive master plan for eight miles of the North Delaware Riverfront, from the city’s northern edge down through Penn’s Landing.

At the public event last month where all the finalists presented their visions, Corner compared the Pier 11 project – which also includes a request that he consider what can be done with Pier 9 – to the High Line. He said that like the High Line, Pier 11 can be both an economic generator for the city and a unique place for residents to enjoy the river.

He stressed the importance of scale in designing Pier 11, and incorporating “the majesty of the bridge and the river” into the design, along with the harbor space between Piers 11 and 9. “These spaces in between, they lend themselves to new forms of social use, such as kayaking, or fishing. And they also have certain ecological benefits in terms of building an aquatic habitat and natural wetlands,” he said. “Pier 11 is intended to be the catalyst for a much larger vision,” he said. Its identity is at once the creation of a destination, with connectivity and access that celebrates the water. “Pier 11 is a small but precious thing.”

Philadelphians may have another pier to play on as well. The William Penn Foundation has offered the DRWC $500,000 to create a green public space with water access at Pier 53, off of Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia.

“The pier itself is not in great condition,” Joe Forkin, the DRWC’s vice president for operations and development, told the group. But the upland area of the pier, which is located just south of the U.S. Coast Guard building, could be used for fishing and other activities, he said. It’s also a handy spot for a bit of green space because its adjacent to the coming multi-use trail.

Director Rina Cutler, the city’s deputy mayor for transportation and utilities, said water department employees who are experts at ripping out non-porous surfaces and replacing them with plants could help. The water department likes to do this because the less runoff that makes it into the city’s sewer system, the less likely it is that the system will become overwhelmed and back up during a storm. That sounded great to Taylor.

The Planning Committee discussed the Pier 53 project later Friday afternoon, Forkin said.  They loved the idea, but plan to do further work on a draft RFP that is expected to be posted soon, he said. The goal is to have Pier 53 ready for the public in summer 2010.

SugarHouse parking

The Planning Committee is also in discussions with Sugar House Casino regarding a parking lot the DRWC owns at the river and Spring Garden. Sugar House is interested in leasing the property to use as a parking lot while it builds a parking garage.

 Work on the garage would not begin until the interim casino is up and running – which is scheduled to happen next summer.

Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, urged the board to reject the idea. So did Steve Weixler, executive director of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group. Both said a parking lot is the lowest use for a prime piece of waterfront. Rubin said he was concerned that the land could stay a lot for years. Ruben urged the group to at least include a strict time limit by which SugarHouse must leave the property.

Greenberger noted that the land is a parking lot now, and, it will likely remain so until there is a proposal for a new development. He also said that the Master Plan for the Central Delaware will take about a year to complete, and that will inform what can be built on the site. So, it’s likely to remain a parking lot for quite some time.

But he also said that if the proposal makes it to the full board, it would be weighed very carefully.  “It’s clearly not in the city’s interest and not in the board’s interest to see a parking lot in perpetuity on a fabulous site,” he said.

Zoning requires SugarHouse to provide .8 parking spaces for every slot machine, Greenberger said. That means they will need about 1,300 parking spaces for the planned interim casino, all of which will be met through surface parking surrounding the site. Phase I of the project would boost the number of slots to 3,000, he said, and the parking garage would meet the additional requirements. But when the garage is built, surface parking will be lost, hence the need for additional parking spaces.

City Council passed an ordinance allowing the casino to acquire off-site parking within one mile of the casino along Delaware Avenue, during garage construction only, Greenberger said.  That means somewhere between Market Street and the Girard Avenue exchange with I-95. They are talking to other land owners, too, he said.

Board chairman Donn G. Scott, sales director with GIB Wachovia, said that any parking agreement would require a super majority vote of the board at a public meeting.  “We would all have a very active role in making a decision and I’m sure we would have a very lively discussion,” he said.

Master Plan interest

Speaking of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, the DRWC received proposals from 23 teams who want to create it, Taylor said. Just like with the Pier 11 RFP process, a team of city staffers will winnow the group down to a short list, Taylor said, but the Planning Committee “wants to look at all of them.”  The hope is to select the winner this fall, she said.

The Board of Directors also approved the DRWC’s fiscal year 2010 operating budget, which includes $7.1 million in expenses – and, including depreciation, almost an $880,000 deficit. (Without including depreciation, the deficit is $279,849)

Director Jay Goldstein, the founder and president of Valley Green Bank, gave the financial report.  Goldstein noted that on the revenue side, the appropriation from the City is dropping to half of what it had been, from $500,000 to $250,000, and is expected to drop even further in coming years. The DRWC’s two largest sources of income are parking revenues ($2.4 million projected for FY 2010) and tenant rents ($1.3 million projected).

Expenditure wise, insurance costs jumped from $518,000 budgeted for FY ’09 to $530,000 projected actual expense. And the budget just approved calls for $605,000. The added expense is the result of the waterfront bike trail, Goldstein said.

DRWC had budgeted a total of $3,339,447 in salaries, wages and benefits for FY ’09, but cuts were made, and the anticipated actual expenditure is now $3,126,723, with $2,960,962 budgeted for FY ’10. Asked what was cut, Goldstein said senior management took voluntary paycuts and the DRWC is no longer making matching payments for 401K contributions.

“Reserves are available,” Goldstein said when asked how the shortfall would be covered. “But on a going-forward basis, we need to make sure we do not have deficits.”

Director Avi Eden questioned why the board was not presented with a joint operating and capital budget. Goldstein said the capital budget was being audited, but told Eden it would also be brought to the full board for review at the next meeting. A determination has to be made as to whether the board will also vote on the operating budget to, Goldstein said.

During the public comment period, Ruben praised Eden for asking that the operating budget also be discussed. He said a more open process would be in keeping with the promises Mayor Michael Nutter made when he created the DRWC after imploding its often criticized predecessor, the Penn’s Landing Corporation. Ruben also praised the board for keeping things open so far.

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On the horizon: The Philadelphia Riverboat Company has been talking to the real estate and programs committees about starting a dinner river cruise concession. At a meeting on July 13, the Riverboat Company told committee members it would like to offer cruises on a 1,250 passenger vessel. The Sprit of Philadelphia boat, by comparison, holds more than 400 people.  The cruises would last about three hours, traveling from the Ben Franklin Bridge to the Walt Whitman. The committees hope to work out an agreement that they will bring to the full board for approval. The company would like to start in April 2011.

Contact the reporter at kelliespatrick@gmail.com

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