Philly’s Festival Pier to be transformed into massive mixed-use development

Members of the development team break ground for the mixed-use Riverview at Festival Pier. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

Members of the development team break ground for the mixed-use Riverview at Festival Pier. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

What was once known as Festival Pier is officially under construction as a mixed-use development.

The construction along the Delaware River comes after a series of issues resulted in a seven year delay and almost tripling of costs.

The development known as Riverview will rise up on an area that was once home of the city’s Parking Authority impound lot and before that a trash incinerator. At one point under the Wilson Goode administration, there were plans to transform the space into a trash to steam plant. More recently known as Festival Pier, the area played host to hundreds of concerts and other events.

Now, work is underway to turn the site into almost 500 apartment homes and a Sprouts Supermarket.

New development is well underway at Delaware and Spring Garden, most recently known as Festival Pier. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)
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Charles Houder of Haverford Properties says the development will be an expansion of the Northern Liberties/Fishtown neighborhood.

“We hope to be their waterfront front porch. We hope to welcome them into a 10-acre park that has some really awesome apartment buildings and retail in it,” Houder said.

Joe Falk of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation which helped assemble the parcel,  said this project will exceed expectations and offer “generous public access.” He said it was done with plenty of community outreach in order to make for a smooth transition and addition that will draw in the surrounding community.

Mayor Jim Kenney said this is a message to those who believe that Philadelphia is on the decline.

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“Despite the naysayers, despite some of the press, the city is back. It’s moving forward,” Kenney said. “Our people want to live in this city, there are businesses that want to be in the city. We are retaining and attracting business.”

Part of the delay in starting construction was about two years’ worth of planning and implementing ways to preserve the Atlantic sturgeon. Only about 250 fish are left in the river and part of the development is designed to keep the fish around for years to come.

“There’s this amazing fish that swims in the Delaware. Many of you might know the Atlantic sturgeon. Well, little did we know that that was probably going to set us back about 18 or 24 months,” said Greg Lamb of Jefferson Apartment Group, a partner in the project. “Everybody’s going to be fine. The sturgeon has been protected.”

The once plentiful Atlantic sturgeon, which spawned a caviar rush in the northern Delaware Bay in the late 1800’s, now number less than 250 adults according to a new study. More than 350,000 once swam up the Delaware River to spawn and lay their sticky clumps of eggs on the rocky bottom. But they never bounced back from their heyday and are now threatened by dams, lack of oxygen, by-catch, and strikes from large ships.

The Environmental Protection Agency this month called for improved water quality in the Delaware Estuary to protect the sturgeon. The fish can grow to 14 feet long, weigh up to 1,000 pounds and live to 75 years.

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