New Master Plan Manager for DRWC

Oct. 22

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

The woman in charge of the creation and implementation of the plan that will guide development of the Central Delaware Waterfront is no stranger to the river.

Sarah Thorp, newly appointed master planning manager at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation – the non-profit created by the city to serve as the waterfront’s steward –  was previously executive director of the Delaware River City Corp. – a non-profit overseeing the creation of a greenway along the northern section of the river.

That experience went a long way in getting Thorp her current job, said DRWC president Tom Corcoran. It’s not just that Thorp has already managed a big river project, it’s that she also got to know so many people who work, play, live or own property on the Delaware.

“She knows and has good working relationships with the different civic organizations up and down the river,” Corcoran said. “She’ll be a real resource for us there, helping to keep the lines of communication open with all of those groups.”  Thorp will be the person most responsible for setting up public meetings about the process, he said.

Corcoran noted that Thorp participated in the public process in which the Vision for the Central Delaware was created. That document, developed by Penn Praxis, is a foundation for the master plan.  Thorp also has served on the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, which was formed to represent neighborhoods in the master planning process. CDAG has already spent a lot of time and energy lobbying City Council for pre-cursors to the master plan, including a zoning overlay that creates a waterfront setback. 

Talk to Thorp about the river, and her enthusiasm is obvious. “The Central Delaware is such a dynamic, interesting landscape. And it has such dense neighborhoods, dense industry, dense business, dense commercial, really close to the waterfront It’s a really exciting place to imagine a combination of different uses along the waterfront,” she said.

“I see myself as the caretaker of this project.”

Thorp, 37, holds a masters degree in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, a bachelors in civil engineering from the University of Iowa, and a certificate in non-profit management from LaSalle University.

She has been at her new job for about two weeks. Her cubicle is filled with maps and drawings of the Central Delaware and some early projects, like the Pier 11 revamp – the design phase of which is underway.

Her computer screen saver – a photograph of a destroyer – hints at another part of her experience. From 1994 to 2003, she was a carrier aviator and flight instructor for the U.S. Navy. An aircraft commander, she taught junior officers how to fly. And Thorp flew more than 2,000 hours herself – some of which under stressful conditions in Bosnia and Iraq.

Thorp knows her job at the DRWC will have its own challenges. The biggest? Keeping the lines of communication open between stakeholder groups with different, and at times contradictory, concerns. “We have to take the different values and viewpoints of how to utilize the waterfront and come to some sort of a plan that considers everyone’s viewpoint and values, so that something can be implemented in the end that most of the stakeholders agree upon,” she said.

Those different groups include residents, civic associations, landowners, the port, developers, industry, environmental groups and recreational users, including boaters, anglers, bikers and runners, Thorp said.

Thorp said that no one plan will please everyone. But the river is a big place, she said, and there is room for a lot of different things.

One element of Thorp’s new job will require her to use sleuthing skills. Corcoran wants her to find any and all studies previously done on the 7-mile stretch of the Central Delaware and provide them to the consultant chosen to design the master plan. “The last thing we want to do is have the consultant spend any money or any resources researching something that has already been done,” Corcoran said. “We’re hiring them for creative input and a visioning process. We don’t want to pay them to rediscover what we already know.”

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