A park, a party, and a whole lot of fundraising

When the jazz plays and the champagne flows at Penn Treaty Park’s annual nighttime soirée next month, boosters will toast the completion of the plan for the park’s future and honor a woman who led the sessions where the public told planners their wishes.

Then comes the really hard part: It will cost about $12.7 million to build the new fishing pier, wetlands, and everything else the master plan contains.

Friends President A.J. Thomson said about $14,000 the Friends raised through Shadfest (which recently won a Best of Philly award for top festival), the several thousand that Champagne in the Park will bring in, and other donations should  cover the cost of park events and some maintenance and capital improvement projects, which this year included the replacement of the Penn Treaty Tree and the creation of a new website.

But $12.7 million?

“We would have to have a Champagne in the Park for the entire city of Philadelphia. They would all have to come,” Thomson said.

No one expects the Friends to raise that kind of money, said Joan Blaustein, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation’s director of urban forestry and ecosystem management. “It’s really rare for a plan of this scale to be taken on by anybody but the city.”

The city isn’t exactly flush these days, either, and Parks & Recreation’s budget has gotten smaller. The reality is capital projects are projected five years out, and as of now, Penn Treaty’s projects are not among the projections, Blaustein said.

Blaustein, Thomson and the Friends of Penn Treaty aren’t giving up. They are gearing up.

The Master Plan itself was finished late in 2009 – after last year’s champagne fundraiser. The phasing portion of the master plan – the part that maps out what portions should be tackled when, and the approximate cost for each segment – was completed more recently, and was just approved by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Blaustein said. Now that that’s happened, she plans to meet with the master plan steering committee in September, to start looking at possible sources for grants. The grant writing will begin with potential funders’ next grant cycle, she said.

Blaustein has already started talking with consultants for the Philadelphia International Airport, which must fackle wetland mitigation in order to do a runway extension that would remove some existing wetlands. Penn Treaty’s plan calls for wetlands, she said, so she hopes to get the park on their list of possible replacement sites.

Thomson doesn’t want the plan to end up dusty and forgotten. “What I’m trying to do through the group is push this plan,” he said. The Friends can’t raise all the money by themselves, he knows. But he figures they can raise some money, and start projects that take little bites, one by one, out of the big plan. Especially since some of these small bites – such as new lighting – would make such a big difference.

The friends have recently applied for a $150,000 grant from PECO and a $75,000 grant from the Penn Treaty Special Services District – the entity created to accept money from SugarHouse Casino.

Thomson said the PECO grant would be used to buy and install 25 – or 30 – solar powered lights for the park.

Despite the fact that the park is next to a PECO facility, there is no electricity in it. “It’s very dark there at night,” he said. And people take advantage of that to do things they don’t want anyone else to see. He’s found used condoms and empty 40-ounce beer containers. And in recent months, someone vandalized the base of the William Penn Statue. The Friends had it and other monuments cleaned recently, but it didn’t help, since the graffiti was dug into the limestone. It must be removed with acid, Thomson said.

The special services district money would be used for new playground equipment and other improvements in the children’s area, he said.

Blaustein said she hopes having a plan will make potential donors more eager to donate to the park. Thomson figures they will be even more enticed if they see the Friends working hard to chip away at the plan, bit by bit.  “Money gets money, energy gets energy,” he said. “If we do this right, they will see it as a good investment, and want to buy into it.”

Individuals can buy in – and have a fine time in the process – by attending Champagne in the Park on Sept. 10, Thomson said. Tickets are $35 in advance or $45 the night of, and include food from a bunch of local restaurants, live jazz by the Anthony Ferrara Group with Mary Ellen Desmond, and champagne.

The evening’s honorees are the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and senior director Joan Reilly, who oversees the Philadelphia Green program and led the many public input sessions for the park’s master plan. Thomson said the Friends are bestowing this honor for reasons that go beyond the master plan work done by Reilly and PHS. “They were really involved in Shadfest, and in urban gardening, and in a lot of other things in our neighborhood,” he said.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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