Groundbreaking takes place at Race Street Pier

The construction that will transform the now bare surface of Race Street Pier into a riverfront park began today.

The ceremonial groundbreaking was scheduled on the same day that workers started to form the design created by landscape architect firm James Corner Field Operations, said Tom Corcoran, president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation at the Tuesday afternoon ceremony.  “So after the program is over, I would advise everyone to move quickly,” he joked.

The construction team has until late spring to finish the project, which was designed based on input gathered from the public and has two distinct levels. The upper level features a promenade with benches and mature trees, while a lower terrace will have a lawn with lots of places to sit and look out at the river or upward at the Ben Franklin Bridge, which sits just north of the pier.

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation is the quasi-city agency which is overseeing the construction of the park, in addition to the creation of a long-range master plan for the future development of the Central Delaware between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues. While the plan is not yet finished, the Race Street Pier project, the recently opened Washington Avenue Green park near Pier 53, and the in-design Race Street Connector project, which will better link the pier back to Old City, are all part of the master plan.

“What you’re watching in front of you is the transformation of what will soon be considered one of the best waterfronts anywhere in the United States of America,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who added that the only thing better than a groundbreaking is a ribbon cutting, and he was looking forward to that in the spring.

James Corner, principal of the design firm, called everyone’s attention to how “noisy and urban” it was at the foot of the pier, where everyone had gathered for the ceremony. “But 500 feet out there it’s extraordinary,” he said, gesturing to the acre-sized finger that jutted out into the river behind him. “You have views that are miles long as you look upstream or downstream on the Delaware River. So the design of this pier is really about dramatizing the theater of being able to come out to the pier … and come out into the space of the river.”

The project is funded with money from the William Penn Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, the state departments of Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Drew Becher, horticultural society president, said that PHS is already reaching out to the many people who participated in the public input sessions (which were organized by PHS) in hopes of organizing a Friends of Race Street Pier organization. While basic maintenance for the park will be provided through the city, friends groups often want more for the parks they support and raise money to make extra things happen. The friends group will also help make programming decisions, he said.

Watch the video to hear what all speakers had to say about the latest project to get underway on the Central Delaware Waterfront.

Old City Civic President Joe O’Donnell said that his organization – a group credited with providing input for the new park and the connector project – was working to bring Old City eastward, to meet up with the waterfront, just as those guiding the waterfront redevelopment were working to reach west to the neighborhoods.

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