A glimpse of what Race Street Pier will become

June 2, 2010

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

In most of Philadelphia, it was much hotter than a morning in early June had any right to be. But not at the end of a concrete finger poking into the blue of the Delaware River.

The breeze sweeping across Race Street Pier had turned sticky into sweet for the half dozen members of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. Their riverfront decisions made for the month, DRWC President Tom Corcoran invited them – and PlanPhilly – onto this man-made peninsula to get a sense of its progression from old maritime workspace into new river playspace.

It’s delicious zephyrs like these that lure people down The Shore, noted Valley Green Bank CEO Jay Goldstein, DRWC vice chair, as he and the other board members took in the air and the view – a boat passing by with waving passengers. A train zipping across to Jersey. Birds passing overhead.

Come next May when the transformation by James Corner Field Operations is set to finish, this pier could bring a bit of ocean refreshment to a lunch hour, PennDesign Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor agreed. But she, director of city planning Alan Greenberger, Wachovia sales director Donn Scott and Goldstein were quick to add that the spot has offerings all its own:  Views of the city that can’t be seen from shore.  A great perch for gazing at the gray-blue cables and solid gray footings of the Ben Franklin Bridge.  A rich past. A significant amount of wildlife. And a quick walk back to urbanity – First  Friday in Old City, perhaps.

The pier is currently covered mostly with rough pavement, unearthed  within the past few days after the removal of some rogue, scrubby vegetation and later pavement layers.  It’s a beautiful site to DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin, because rough as it looks, it’s surprisingly sound. So much so that it will cost the DRWC less than anticipated to prepare the space for park-building. (Just how much less hasn’t yet been determined.)

An old railroad track slices across the pier, remnant of the days when ships came to this pier to unload the world’s goods onto railcars for distribution around the city and beyond, and load up with goods from here, to be taken back to the world.

There are four rectangular slices taken from the sides of the pier where boats could slip in. Called wharf drops, two of them will remain when the pier is a park, Forkin said. Metal grates will allow visitors to walk right over the water.

The future will also include trees and a grassy area, large steps for sitting on, and a deck-like space that will allow anyone who wants to get right next to the water to do exactly that.

“It’s going to change the whole perception of the waterfront,” Greenberger said.

Scott summed it up in three words: “I can’t wait.”

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