LOVE Park’s long-anticipated renovation was celebrated Wednesday morning with a ceremonial groundbreaking, and an announcement that the city would lift the park’s skateboarding ban through Presidents’ Day.
“Between now and February 15th we’re going to lift the ban on skating here and allow folks to come back and experience this place one more time before it goes under construction,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, acknowledging LOVE Park’s important place in the hearts of skateboarders worldwide. “Come back for one more spin on your board.”
Kenney gave credit for the idea to Jesse Rendell, Ed Rendell’s son, a lawyer and avid skater affiliated with Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund.
The future LOVE Park won’t welcome skateboarding, but the hope is that it will thrive as a new civic heart in Center City, creating a better link to the Parkway and complementing the new Dilworth Park at City Hall.
“It’s a Center City park, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a place for all citizens, all citizens, from all over the city to come and gather, to protest, to celebrate, to come in times of trouble and in times of joy. It has that special place in the life of the city,” said Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis to the small crowd stuffed into the Fairmount Park Welcome Center. “It really is a significant public space and it deserves the attention and the resources that we’re putting into it now.”
The city sold the garage below JFK Plaza / LOVE Park to Interpark in 2014. The impetus for the park project was actually born from the need to peel back the park to waterproof the leaky garage roof below. That presented an opportunity to rethink the mid-century plaza on top and make the garage ADA accessible. That opportunity also prompted public conversations about what LOVE Park should become, including a proposal from Council President Darrell Clarke for a heavy presence of revenue-generating uses. So Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy embarked on deeper conversations with City Council, a civic engagement process, and economic study to inform the design team led by Hargreaves Associates.
“It’s a project about public-private partnership. It’s a project about political will and vision. It’s a project about public participation. It’s a project about making a place more civic, more democratic, more open, more welcoming,” said Mary Margaret Jones, principal at Hargreaves. “The process was not just our design process, it was yours.”
In the coming weeks more of LOVE Park will be fenced off and its surfaces peeled away. Robert Indiana’s sculpture will be moved and conserved and the old granite pavers will be salvaged for reuse (including in skateparks across the city), making way for repairs and waterproofing of the garage roof. The new park is expected to open in spring 2017. The combined cost of renovating the park and the saucer-shaped Fairmount Park Welcome Center is $16.5 million.
“I hope today’s groundbreaking is the first of many as we make bold plans to invest in parks and recreation facilities across the city,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, who began work on this project in her tenure as director of the Fairmount Park Conservancy.