Waterfront trees? Bigger is better for Race Street Pier

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Bigger trees are better trees for the Race Street Pier, Delaware River Waterfront Corporation board members decided today.

The original plan was to buy 37 trees with 4- or 6-inch caliper trunks, said DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin. Race Street Pier design team James Corner Field Operations brought news that Environmental Designs – the firm that supplied the large trees for the World Trade Center Memorial – “had an overstock” of white swamp oaks.

The oaks’ trunks are about 8 inches by caliper. They have been growing in large, concrete planters, which means they have less risk of dying once they reach their final destination in planters on the pier, Forkin said. The other option would be to transplant trees dug up at a nursery. Judging by a photo of one of the trees towering over James Corner’s Lisa Switkin, the Race Street Pier project manager, they are conservatively more than 20 feet tall.

“On opening day, it will absolutely look beautiful,” Forkin told the executive committee at Wednesday’s meeting. “The presences of these versus 4-inch and 6-inch caliper trees is completely dramatic.”

The cost difference is pretty dramatic, too. The project budget calls for spending $2,500 per tree, and these would be more like $5,000 per tree. In other words, the big trees would boost the tree cost from the projected $92,500 to $185,000.

But the DRWC Planning Committee, which already discussed and embraced the bigger tree idea at a recent meeting, came up with the idea of holding a fund-raiser to meet the additional cost. The executive committee agreed that’s a good plan, and not just because it would replace the $190,000 the executive committee voted to spend to pay for the trees. “I think it’s a good way to get people engaged,” said DRWC President Tom Corcoran.

“That’s the thing!” agreed board member Marilyn Jordan Taylor, who chairs the planning committee. “We could just pay for this ourselves, but this will start the notion of private giving” for waterfront projects.

After the meeting, Taylor, who is the dean of Penn’s Design School, said Environmental Design is a firm that is well known by landscape architects. The larger trees will “create a sense of instant permanency and contribute to the quality of the space,” she said. Also, Taylor noted, they will provide more shade.

Each tree will bear a plaque honoring the person or entity which donated the $2,500.

More fund-raising details will be worked out before the DRWC’s July 30 quarterly board meeting, after which a campaign will be launched. But the hope is that by the end of July, donations for about 10 trees will have already been made. Taylor also said during the meeting that DRWC board members should ante up. Board members said they hoped to have donations to cover all the trees by the time construction begins on the pier in September. The trees would likely be planted in the spring.

Forkin told the board that progress on the pre-construction prep work for the Race Street Pier park was going well. “There have been no change orders yet,” he said. Forkin said the bid to construct the park would go out in early August.

Efforts are also continuing on the design for the Race Street Connector project. This is the improvements in streetscape, signage and other elements that will better connect Race Street Pier to the rest of Race Street. Forkin said that artists who hope to create public art for the space have been taken on a tour of the area, and they will soon present their ideas. The winning projects will be selected in mid-August, which is also when a cost-estimate to build the connection project is expected. Once that figure is in hand, work will begin to raise money through government and foundation grants, Forkin said.

Board Chairman Donn Scott asked that the DRWC look for ways to allow city art students to observe the art selection and creation process as a learning exercise.

In other news:

Pier 53: The DRWC is working to get state and city water-related approvals to build a one-acre pop-up park at the foot of Pier 53. Because the park, to be located on the uplands of the pier, will improve storm water run off by breaking up a currently impermeable parking lot, permitting problems are not anticipated.

Construction of the park is expected to begin in late July or early August and be finished, with the exception of some seasonal plantings, in time for a late August groundbreaking. At that time, the Biohabitats firm is also expected to turn over a plan on what could be done with the part of the pier that juts into the water.

Could is the operative word. The $500,000 pop-up project is not necessarily meant to be the end result for the parcel, but rather, a quick way to get people on the river in South Philadelphia.

The Central Delaware Master Plan, now in development, may indeed conclude that a park is the best use for the pier, Taylor said, but it is important not to give the impression that that has already been decided.

“The longer it remains a park, the greater the expectation is going to be that it stays a park,” noted Board Vice Chair Jay Goldstein.

Multi-use Trail: Master Plan Manager Sarah Thorp reported a glitch with the multi-use trail that recently opened. The portion of the trail between Washington Avenue and Lombard Street runs on the sidewalk and is identified with hash marks.

It’s illegal in Philadelphia to ride bicycles on the sidewalk. The city recently created a legal process by which a sidewalk can legally be designated for trail use, Thorp said, and DRWC has initiated that process. Because a survey is needed, it will likely take two months or so. Meanwhile, the striping may have to be removed from the sidewalk.

But Thorp said that the city is not going to be handing out tickets for people who ride bikes on the sidewalk between Washington and Lombard.

Also, since DRWC is going through the sidewalk-trail application process, it will seek to have the special designation continue the whole way up to Penn Treaty Park.

Thorp said that while there are now bike lanes along Delaware Avenue, they are intimidating even for experienced cyclists. Opening a sidewalk trail to Penn Treaty will allow many more people to ride their bikes along the stretch, she said.

The trail will jut off the sidewalk and flow closer to the river at Penn’s Landing, since that land is owned by the DRWC, she said.  Long term, the hope is to construct a permanent trail closer to the river across the whole stretch.

How do people get to Penn’s Landing?: Speaking of Penn’s Landing, Jodie Milkman, vice president of marketing and programming, said that approximately 150,000 people had visited Penn’s Landing during the past few weeks. The most popular event, she said, was the July 3 fireworks display and Philadelphia Orchestra concert.

Board Member Alan Greenberger, the deputy mayor who oversees planning and commerce for the city, suggested that at a future big event, a survey should be done to see how people are getting to the waterfront and from where they are coming. Such information would be valuable as work continues on the master plan, he said.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.