Pier 53 work underway, Race Street Pier gets contractor

The concrete parking lot that is being transformed into the park at the foot of Pier 53 is now a pile of giant puzzle pieces.

The moonscape of holes drilled in another area will in a few weeks be filled with soil and plants that, given enough time, will further break down the pavement.

And just off shore, to the right of the old pier, the floating wetlands created and set adrift in a public workshop last June have grown from tiny sprouts to four-foot high specimens of marsh mallow, cardinal flower, bull rush and other native plants.

The space will be a quiet hub of green in about a month, said Ed Morgereth, senior ecologist and principal with Biohabitats, the Baltimore firm that was hired by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation to make a pop-up park from one acre of pavement behind the Sheetmetal Workers Union Hall on Columbus Boulevard near Washington Avenue.

During a late morning tour earlier this week, it was not a peaceful place. “We’re heavily into the demolition stage,” Morgereth said. The workers, noise of metal cutting concrete, and dust underscored his words.

Just a couple of hours earlier, the DRWC’s executive committee approved awarding the contract to build the park at Race Street Pier. It is the northern bookend of the two-park, early action items meant to jump start decades of work being outlined in the Central Delaware Master Plan, which is expected to be unveiled in February.

Three bids came in, all slightly higher than the estimated cost, Vice President for Operations and Development Joe Forkin told the board members Wednesday. Representatives from the Field Operations design team and DRWC staff negotiated with the two lowest bidders, Forkin said. Then, means of cutting costs without changing the design or function of the park were investigated. For example, $400,000 was saved by switching to pre-cast concrete. The board awarded a $4.45 million maximum price possible contract to AP Construction Incorporated.

The firm, which has offices in Philadelphia and Blackwood, N.J., built the Eagles’ Novacare Practice Facility and the dock for the USS Battleship New Jersey, among many other large projects.

Back at Pier 53, one man operated an enormous drilling machine that cut concrete cores out of the pavement in a pattern prescribed by environmental artist Stacy Levy. The branching pattern, which is meant to mimic a tributary running toward the Delaware River, will become more pronounced once the plants are growing in the holes, Morgereth said.

Some of the piled concrete will be used in what is called the rubble meadow. “Pieces of concrete will be set into the meadow as stepping stones,” he said. 

Another worker operated a piece of equipment that looked like a combination of a giant pizza cutter and a Zamboni. He cut the concrete into perfectly square sections that will be re-used to construct edging and sea walls on the site.

Master Plan Manager Sarah Thorp, who works for the DRWC, said she loves that the parks on either end of the Central Delaware will have such different character. “One is small and quick, and largely an ecological reclamation that will provide riverfront access,” she said of the Pier 53 upland project. “The other is a high-level design public park.”

The Pier 53 project may or may not be permanent, that is to be determined as the master plan progresses. But Pier 11, with its large trees, grassy areas, and large, paved steps for sitting upon, will become a permanent part of the Philadelphia landscape.

“It’s a fabulous site under the Ben Franklin bridge,” said DRWC board member Marilyn Jordan Taylor. “But it’s not just about creating a destination. It’s also about a connection into Old City and the neighborhoods that are adjoining.”

Board Member Jay Goldstein is clearly proud of the work the DRWC has done. “I think this is truly a reflection of what the adminsitration had in mind when they reconfigured this corporation,” he said. “In about one and a half years, we’ve created two parks and a bike trail.”

Also at this week’s DRWC meeting, Thorp announced that DRWC, through the city, had just been awarded a $75,000 grant through the federal Coastal Zone Management Program for the construction of Race Street Pier. Both Race Street and the connector project, which will include improvements on Race Street from 2nd Street to Delaware Avenue, are expected to be finished this spring.  The design for the connector is nearing completion. At the suggestion of board member Ellen Yin, who participated in the meeting by phone, the board agreed that they would soon have a meeting to share it with the Old City District.

Thorp also said that she and DRWC President Tom Corcoran had been meeting with waterfront property owners to discuss what the Master Plan might create for the future use of their properties. Thorp said the idea was to let them know that on Oct. 19, there will be a public meeting at which various options for the waterfront, including some uses for their properties, will be presented. The information was shared with the landowners ahead of time so they would not be surprised, she said, adding that the reception has been positive. Corcoran said that the ideas are for mostly vacant land, and that it’s been made clear that no option would happen immediately.  “Rather, it’s that in the event that the land goes up on the market, or you intend to develop it yourself, here are some ideas.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.