Pier 53 designs to be unveiled at Saturday’s Eco-Fest

Plans to transform Pier 53 into park space will be unveiled on-site Saturday, during a morning of birdwatching and other ecologically themed events.

Plans shown at Friday’s Delaware River Waterfront Corporation meeting include a spire at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Columbus Boulevard announcing to people that a park is just steps away. Park advocates have long noted the need for signage, but this goes beyond that – it is a sculptural artwork by project artist Jody Pinto.

An even larger sculpture designed by Pinto would be on the pier itself. It would light up at night. And people could actually climb up inside of it. Pinto calls it the “Land Buoy”.

The land at the foot of the historic Pier 53 is already a park – Washington Avenue Green. Affectionately known as WAG, this park was among the earliest projects that are part of the city’s effort to revitalize the Central Delaware Waterfront. It opened before the Central Delaware Master Plan was even finished.

Washington Avenue Green includes views of the river, benches and native gardens. But actually having (legal!) access to the pier itself and the water will take this bit of Pennsport green space to a whole other level, said Friends of Washington Avenue Green member Susan McAninley.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “We have no idea what the possibilities are.”

McAninley said the pier-portion of the park will allow something the community dearly wants: The ability to actually touch the river. From the river-end of the pier, people will also be able to enjoy views up and down the Delaware that can’t be seen from shore.

McAninley is equally enthusiastic about the history lessons the pier can teach.

“It was the Ellis Island of Philadelphia,” she said. “About a million people came in from Europe to that port, including my great grand parents.” McAninley, who runs WAG’s website, said she’s already been contacted by people from out-of-town whose relatives came into the U.S. via the pier. “It’s going to be a very popular place,” she said.

Applied Ecological Services representatives will be on-hand Saturday to show and discuss the plans for Pier 53, which are complete but for some fine tuning with things like materials, said Delaware River Waterfront Corporation Planner/Project Manager Lizzie Woods.

DRWC is the quasi-city agency that oversaw the creation of the Central Delaware Master Plan and is also overseeing its implementation. AES presented the designs to the DRWC board’s planning committee Thursday. The images posted here were presented to the full board on Friday morning.

Woods told DRWC board members that staff is seeking permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the US Army Corps of Engineers for the $1.5 million project, and that process will take about six months. The hope is that construction will begin in September, and open in late May or early June.

Three elements planned for the park are not yet funded: The boardwalk, a “welcome spire” at Washington Avenue and Columbus Boulevard and a “Land Buoy” interactive sculpture toward the tip of the pier.  Woods said a cost anaylsis of these items is being conducted now, and after the cost is determined, DRWC will begin searching for funds. Woods said the goal is to raise the money during the permitting process, so that these elements will be finished at the same time as the rest of the project.

The artwork is literally a beacon, Woods said, and that is fitting for a spot where so many immigrants were welcomed to the United States.  In addition to needing funding, both sculptures would have to be approved by the city’s art commission.

Pier 53 is the northern-most portion of the wetlands park the master plan envisions and will stretch from there to Pier 70, Woods said. The hope is that the Pier 53 project will serve as a demonstration of the wetlands restoration practices that would be used along that entire stretch, she said. If DRWC can show that the work makes a difference, the rest of the wetlands park could be funded in part by entities that are required to do wetland restoration.

Habitat restoration will mostly be focused in the inter-tidal zone. “That is really where we are going to try to do some interesting plantings to create a more hospitable environment for fish and other wildlife species,” Woods said.

(As part of Saturday’s event, AES’s Scott Quitel will talk about the plants and animals – even microscopic ones – of this part of the Delaware River. Quitel will also lead a nature walk down to Pier 70, Woods said.)

Once the pier project is complete, people will be able to touch the water at what’s being called the beach access area, she said. This part of the park will feel very different at high tide than at low tide, she said, as there is a six-foot difference in water depth. There will be wading, but no swimming.

Attention anglers: Fishing will be allowed on part of the pier.

The plan incorporates pier history in several ways. The design/build team will literally use old bricks and stones that were part of the structure of the immigration station, found on site, woods said. Artist Jody Pinto has also worked with the designers to work history into the structure of the park itself, Woods said.

The Central Delaware already has one pier-park, Race Street Pier at the end of Race Street, which used to be known as Pier 11. The future Pier 53 park will be similar “in that both are attempts to repurpose abandoned piers left over from when industry vacated the Central Delaware,” Woods said.  But the two parks will feel very different. Race Street Pier has an urban vibe, she said. Pier 53 park “Will have a much more natural feeling.” Together the two parks will show that “within the city, we can have these two very different experiences on the water,” Woods said.

Here’s a run-down of Saturday’s Eco-Fest events:

At 8:30 a.m., there will be a guided bird walk. Washington Avenue Green has a limited number of binoculars that those without their own can borrow.

From 9:30 to 11 a.m., Quitel will talk about the water and wildlife on the site. He’ll have magnifying glasses to allow visitors to see some of the smallest organisms. There will be crafts for kids.

From 11 to 11:30 a.m., the AES team will show and discuss the plans for the new park.

Then at 11:30, Quitel will lead the nature walk.

For more information, visit the Washington Avenue Green website, here.

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