Full funding secured for phase one of Rail Park

Here’s a burst of sunshine on this otherwise dreary and wet Friday.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Budget quietly released a list of Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grants, including one for $3.5 million to Center City District, which will allow construction crews to begin converting the Reading Viaduct into an elevated, linear park.

With the RACP funds in hand, the Center City District (CCD) now has the $8.8 million needed to start Phase 1 building The Rail Park: a quarter-mile long linear park along a section of the abandoned Reading Railroad viaduct in Callowhill that curves from 13th and Noble streets to Vine Street just west of 11th Street.  The CCD began soliciting bids for the Rail Park’s construction over the summer. Construction could begin as soon as the fall, and is expected to last 15-to-18 months.

“We are thrilled,” said Michael Garden, vice-president of the Friends of the Rail Park, the grassroots nonprofit formed to advocate and fundraise for the park. The idea of converting the elevated viaduct into a park has been twelve years in the making. “We’ve been talking about it so long, and I’m tired of answering the question as to when. Now we can say it definitively.”

“[We are] extraordinarily happy,” said Paul Levy, President of CCD. “Lots of people have worked very, very long to make this a reality.”

For Phase 2, the CCD and Friends of the Rail Park want to convert a longer elevated segment of the viaduct that runs from 11th and Callowhill up to Fairmount Avenue. That section is still owned by Reading International, a California-based real estate company and movie theater operator that was once the Reading Railroad.

The Rail Park isn’t Philadelphia’s only recreational trail getting RACP funds: The Schuylkill River Trail is getting $1.5 million to help its western stretch extend from Bartram’s Gardens to Passyunk Point, an area just south of Passyunk Avenue.

The 2015 RACP release, first reported by Philly.com, was delayed by the budget stalemate in Harrisburg last year.  

Other RACP grants include $10 million to PREIT for the redevelopment of the Gallery; $1.3 million towards the Chinatown Community Center under planned for 10th and Vine; $1 million for improvements to a SHARE Food Program facility in Northwest Philadelphia; and $2 million to Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) and Brown’s Super Stores to help build PHA’s new headquarters and a supermarket in Sharswood, part of the PHA’s massive, $500 million redevelopment plan. Brown’s also received $2 million towards the redevelopment of its supermarket in Parkside.

In addition to the $3.5 million RACP grant, the Friends of the Rail Park and the CCD have cobbled together funds from the City of Philadelphia, the Knight Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, the Department of Community and Economic Development, and the McLean Contributionship. Urban Engineers and Studio Bryan Hanes designed the park.

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