Manayunk’s Venice Island in final months of redevelopment

The relentless winter that slowed Mother Nature’s clock this spring also delayed manmade projects.

Venice Island — the $46 million complex designed for stormwater management, recreational activities, and performing arts in Manayunk — had been running on schedule and was due to open this month.

Then the polar vortex put those plans on ice.

Delays in construction

The project is about two months behind. Construction is expected to be completed by July, but the official ribbon-cutting won’t happen until September, said Joanne Dahme, public affairs manager for the Philadelphia Water Department.

A summer camp for kids, a theater camp for seniors, and other arts programs have been moved elsewhere for now, explained William Powell, performing arts coordinator for Parks and Recreation.

An outdoor recreation event scheduled for June on Venice Island has been postponed, but a new date will be announced, according to Kim Wood, project manager for Destination Schuylkill River.

Changes to Venice Island

Venice Island, which lies between the Schuylkill and the Manayunk Canal, with access at Lock and Cotton Streets, had been a recreation center for decades. In the 1960s, families enjoyed a waterfront playground, and in recent years the island offered a hockey rink and basketball courts. But the infrastructure had deteriorated, plants became overgrown, and conditions on Venice Island didn’t parallel the economic growth on Manayunk’s Main Street.

In November 2011, following years of planning, ground was broken for a rejuvenated Venice Island. The centerpiece — “the real reason the project was done,” Dahme said — is the 4 million-gallon underground basin and pumping station, which reduces the demands on the stormwater system in the Manayunk area and improves the water quality of the river. The island’s “Big Tank” has the capacity to divert overflow from the sewage system that runs along the canal during heavy rains and thereby prevents the untreated water from getting into the Schuylkill.

That aspect of Venice Island is finished and functional, following a three-month testing period. “Every time we have a heavy rain, it reduces the overflow from going into the Schuylkill,” Dahme said.

The project is not able to stop the flooding from the river along Main Street, she noted. That will take a longer-term project.

A green roof is growing atop the pumping station, but tree trenches that will also help mitigate storm runoff are not completed yet.

A grand opening

And work continues inside and outside the Performing Arts Center. The wooden stage floor, theatrical lighting, curtains and other interior components are under construction. The stepped seating of the outdoor amphitheater are finished, but lighting, railings and other fixtures aren’t in place yet. An irrigation system, landscaping, and lighting for a children’s spray garden and a new basketball court were also delayed by the long winter.

Parks and Rec will announce programming for the September debut of the arts center once an opening date is confirmed, Powell said. Other organizations and agencies will also be able to use the new city-owned facility for performances and other programs.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Alan Jaffe at

Venice Island development underway. Bas Slabbers for Newsworks
Venice Island development underway. Bas Slabbers for Newsworks

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