Parks & Recreation Commission returns to business

Welcoming several new faces and reveling in the sun that spilled through the glass-block windows of Lloyd Hall, the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission returned to business Wednesday night after a summer hiatus. In addition to Committee Reports, Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner, provided an update on projects slated for the area near the Hall, and others brought the Commission up to speed on concession developments and summer successes.

About 30 people sat sprinkled on the hall’s vast basketball court, treated to nibbles from the relatively new Cosmic Cafe concession stand. And for the first time in recent memories, nearly the full commission of 15 members was present, save for deputy mayor Michael DiBerardinis, head of Parks & Recreation (his administrative assistant Carol Roache sat in his stead)] and Streets Department Commissioner, Clarena Tolson. The Water Department’s Commissioner, Howard Neukrug, was represented by Joanne Dahme, the department’s general manager of public affairs.

Commission Chair Nancy Goldenberg began the evening by introducing five new members, Matthew Perks, a lawyer in the District Attorney’s office; Andrew Denison, a marketing expert who has served on the Commission’s Communication committee; Derrick Ford, City Council President Darrell Clarke’s designee; Bridget Greenwald, the newly-appointed Public Property Commissioner, and Gary Jazstrab, executive  director of the City Planning Commission. The last three represent ex-officio seats; they were not in their current positions when the Commission first began meeting in 2010.

Goldenberg also thanked former members of the Commission, including Alexander “Pete” Hoskins, Carlos Rodriguez, Barbara Capozzi, and Anthony Langford, who died suddenly this March.

Goldenberg then announced several parks-and-rec related events scheduled for this Fall, including Open Air, a light installation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway which premiers tonight; the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Fall Garden Festival, which occurs this Saturday; and Love Your Park, a citywide cleanup event scheduled for Nov. 17.

Focht’s presentation centered on a $4 million project, funded from cultural bonds that were allocated by outgoing Mayor John Street in 2007. Slated for work through 2014, the project involves, first, a restoration, plumbing retrofit, and landscape enhancement of the Italian Fountain, a gift to the city that dates to 1926. The next phase is to build a bridge to and lay down boardwalk paths on a 2 1/2-acre island that’s amassed in the river outside of Lloyd Hall from silt accumulation over the years. The final phase is more landscape improvements in the areas between the Hall and the Fairmount Water Works.

Ed Fagan, Director of Development for Parks and Rec, next provided an update on the system’s concession efforts — nothing we hadn’t heard before — and Leo Dignam, deputy commissioner, offered a barrage of numbers to paint a picture of the system’s summer activity. Pool visits and day participation saw growth from the previous summer, he said, and thanks to reinvigorated efforts to partner with local police, both youth and adult summer basketball leagues ran “without incident.”

Digham’s most outstanding revelation: the fact that the rec system’s federally-funded meal program is the largest in the country. This year, he said, it served some three million breakfasts, lunch, and evening snacks, suggesting that many more users come to the summer camps than the 6,773 kids who officially register for activities.

Two committee members also gave brief reports. Land Use Committee chair Debra Wolf Goldstein encouraged those in attendance to contact local representatives to oppose a proposed state bill [HB 2224] that would give municipalities the power to sell land for “any or no reason.” Communications chair Carol Rice presented the PaRC Star Award to Carolyn Duffy of Friends of Schuylkill River Park.

Goldenberg concluded the meeting by reiterating the Commission’s year-long focus on safety. She mentioned that City Councilmember Cindy Bass, chair of the Council’s Committee on Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs, had held a public hearing in August on the topic, and that a public hearing on illegal all-terrain vehicles is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Goldenberg also announced the Commission’s own upcoming safety forum, which will offer members from park Friends group, city officials and others the chance to hear best practices from representatives of the Los Angeles and New York City park systems. It’s scheduled for Oct. 24, and Goldenberg promised more details would be forthcoming.

Contact the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

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