Ground was broken late Monday morning by a sizable chunk of Philadelphia’s leadership, gathered at 21st Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to celebrate three of the latest improvements to the boulevard, now in its tenth decade.
Mark Focht, executive director of the Fairmount Park Commission, introduced the guests and summarized the Parkway’s latest cause for the golden shovels: streetscape improvements to the 2100 and 2200 blocks; a complete restoration of the landscape and courtyard of the Rodin Museum; and “an entirely new Sister Cities park” on Logan Square. The newest moves will cost about $19 million.
There were more pinstripes on the dais with Focht than can be seen at a Phillies home game: Gov. Ed Rendell; Mayor Michael Nutter; Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Michael Michael DiBerardinis; Don Kimelman of the Pew Charitable Trusts; Timothy Rub, CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Philadelphia Horticultural Society President Drew Becher; Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Center City District; Gail Harrity, chairwoman of the Parkway Council Foundation; Shawn McCaney of the William Penn Foundation; and Sam Little, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.
Rendell went a bit further than the usual comparison to the famous thoroughfare in Paris, saying the Parkway will “be the Champs-Élysées without the McDonald’s, Burger Kings and movie theaters – something we can be enormously proud of.”
“Already the Parkway is a beautiful place, but I really think these investments will elevate it to one of the most unique and cherished public spaces in all of America,” DiBerardinis said.
Levy marveled at the scale of the Parkway’s original undertaking, including the demolition of some 1,600 buildings and a Depression-influenced development dry spell – about 40 years – before the Public Library, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute and the Family Court building were completed.
“I always like to say that the Parkway teaches patience,” Levy said. “But I think we’re going to move to a new phase soon.”
From 1940 through 2000, he added, “the Parkway dream was dormant.” But new lighting and directional signs, the renovations of Swann Fountain and Aviator Park, and the expansion and improvements to the current museums have given the Parkway critical momentum.
“I think we can say at the beginning of the 21st Century that we’re in the second renaissance, the second building of the Parkway,” Levy said. “Picture this Parkway in 2017, which will be the 100th anniversary of the completion of the first phase. The Barnes will be open. Family Court, as you heard from the governor, will probably be condominiums with a new cultural institution. The Library’s expansion will be complete. The expansion of the Franklin Institute will be complete. A new cultural facility may even rise right across the street from us where we once dreamed about a Calder museum. Dilworth Plaza should be complete by that time.
“So think about it,” Levy concluded. “We only have seven years left. It’s time to stop talking. It’s time to start building. It’s time for the Parkway to teach us impatience and get on with the building of a great city.”
Temple Rail Station
Later Monday afternoon, Nutter announced at 9th and Norris streets in North Philadelphia that the city will partner with Asociacíon Puertorriqueños en Marcha (APM) and Jonathan Rose Cos. to construct a mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented development near the Temple Rail Station.
Joining him was Pa. Sen. Bob Casey, introduced by Nilda Ruiz, APM’s president and CEO and a Philadelphia city planning commissioner.
With $487,000 in Federal funding courtesy of Casey, the project will mean 164 new rental apartments for Temple, including at least 44 that will be affordable housing. The development will also have retail space combined with the improvements to the transit hub.
Nutter also underscored the employment that will come from the new project. “You also get 400 construction jobs,” he said. “And if we need anything else in this city, we certainly need jobs.”
The project will seek a LEED certification, but details of the construction were not released.
Contact the reporter at ThomasWalsh1@gmail.com.