Possibilities for the north section of the Central Delaware include a history museum and amphitheater

Planners are thinking of the area around Penn Treaty Park and the PECO substation as the cultural and civic hub of the northern portion of the Central Delaware Waterfront.

The PECO building – a neighborhood icon with the huge interior spaces that so many old industrial and utility buildings possess –  could house an art gallery and museum to showcase both the fine arts and the surrounding neighborhoods’ history, Central Delaware Waterfront Master Plan Manager Sarah Thorp said at a Wednesday forum. There would still be plenty of room for a cafe or restaurant, she said.

In one schematic, the master plan team suggests an outdoor amphitheater designed with enough flexibility that it could be used for concerts, plays and other types of gatherings at the end of Berks Street.

Thorp said that after October’s meeting on the entire master plan, from Oregon to Allegheny Avenues, she and the team of consultants heard from residents of Fishtown, Port Richmond, and other northern end communities who felt left out.

A lot of the specifics have not been finalized for the north, Thorp said. That’s because almost all of the land between Pulaski Park and Penn Treaty Park is privately owned. Conrail owns an enormous chunk, and another large parcel is owned by Jim Anderson, who runs a construction company.

“It’s not because we haven’t been doing work” on the north end, Thorp said. And it’s not to say that the ideas for this area are impossible, either, she added – it’s just that for many of them, residents need to think long term. As in 25 years or more down the road. 

The planning team doesn’t want to create unrealistic expectations among citizens, she said. Nor does it want to give short shrift to the desires and rights of the property owners.

There are some things that can be done within the next five years in the north area, Thorp said. The city-owned Pulaski Park and Penn Treaty Park can be improved. And at least a temporary trail could be built to link the two destinations, she said. Also, in conjunction with PennDOT’s Revive 95 project, some of the major connector streets between the neighborhoods and the river could be improved.

The team also believes large wetlands can be created close to the river, near the proposed multi-purpose trail, even if most of the private property doesn’t change hands anytime soon.

Planners have been in talks with PECO, Anderson and other property owners, Thorp said. PECO has told them that within five to seven years, they will no longer be using their building next to Penn Treaty Park, she said. But they do not know what they will do with the building at that point – they might not want to sell it.

People at the meeting suggested getting the building listed on the historic register so that it cannot be torn down. The building has been identified by planners as one that should be saved, Thorp said. But as of now, PECO could tear it down.

Thorp said after the meeting that if PECO won’t sell the building, the museum/cultural space might have to go in another or a new building. But the goal would be to keep it near Penn Treaty Park, since the history of the park, which is heralded as the spot where William Penn and the Lenni Lenape signed a treaty of friendship – is so important to the area.

With the caveat that these things could be decades off, Thorp showed a slide with ideas planners are working on for the far north. Just like at the far south, there is a port, the Tioga Marine Terminal. There are parcels near there that are heavy industrial, and likely to stay so for a very long time, she said.

But slightly south of that is an area that the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation has envisioned as light industrial. The master plan team is working with PIDC’s vision to create an area of new, clean and green industry, think the Navy Yard, Thorp said, but with one tweak: The planners want to make certain the Lehigh Viaduct continues to provide access to the waterfront.

To learn more, and hear some discussion from meeting attendees on what they like and their concerns, watch the video. Also see the Master Plan website.

Contact the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com

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