A peek at the progress on Race Street Pier

Race Street Pier now bears a strong resemblance to the park it will be less than a month from now, when it opens to the public.

The large lawn is still a pile of rich-looking topsoil, and all the solar lights aren’t embedded yet. But a section of the pier rises 13 feet into the air, allowing some rare views of the Delaware River. And thirty-some mature swamp oaks are nestled into their planters.

Pier history and park design

It was enough to make Vicki Lenoci and her boyfriend Neil Yersak look forward to making the trek from their East Passyunk Crossing home to the finished park next month. “We completely intend on riding our bikes here, using the bike trail on Delaware Avenue,” said Lenoci, an environmental engineer. “It gives us an alternative to going toward the other river,” said Yersak, a structural engineer.

The couple were among 75 people who took a preview tour Tuesday evening. So popular was the event, offered by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and Pennsylvania Horticultural Society as a way to recruit membership for a Friends of Race Street Pier group, that a second tour for another 75 people was added for Wednesday night.

Wharf drops and space to sunbathe

The new pier park is an early project of the still-in-the-works Central Delaware Riverfront Master Plan, which is to be unveiled in June. DRWC, which is overseeing the plan, will maintain the park, said PHS’s Tammy Leigh DeMent. But it’s park friends groups who act as eyes and ears and add additional programing to parks, such as yoga or tai chi.

A look at the river and what the park will be like at night.

Tours were led by the DRWC’s Sarah Thorp, who is coordinating the master plan, and DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin.

Race Street Pier used to be called Pier 11. It was built in the late 1800s, then rebuilt in 1932, Forkin said. The one-acre space used to have a large, two-story structure on it, like its neighbor Pier 9. The bottom portion was used for shipping, the upper for recreation. In a nod to these two levels, James Corner Field Operations designed the new park with two levels: The lower level will have a large lawn and other plantings. It already has close-up views of the river, including places where the river flows close underfoot during high tide.  The upper level – the sky promenade – is essentially a large deck that will be shaded by the oak trees when they come into leaf. The two are linked by stairs, tiered seating and a gradually rising ramp.

At the top: The Sky Promenade

The park will be open until either 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., Forkin said; discussions are ongoing. Between the lights on the Ben Franklin Bridge, which towers to the north, and lights lining the railings and ramps and embedded in the pier itself, it will be a well-lit place, he said.

Work will soon begin on the Race Street connector project – improvements to Race Street between 2nd Street in Old City and the Pier designed to help guide people to the park.  It will take between five to seven minutes to make that walk, Forkin said.  The design of the pier also allows walkers to make a continuous 15 minute loop from Old City to the tip of the pier and back, he said.

One last look around

“My favorite part was just being out on the water,” said Anita Lager, a landscape architect from Society Hill. “I think it will help animate this part of the city.”
Race Street Pier will open to the public May 12. To learn more about the friends group, see the Facebook page.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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