“Pre-development” work to begin at Festival Pier incinerator site

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation will soon begin preliminary work necessary to prepare the former incinerator site at Festival Pier for residential and other development.

And a national architectural organization has agreed to make the future of the parcel the focus of an October design charrette.

The Master Plan for the Central Delaware calls for residential and mixed-use development at the site, located on Delaware Avenue at the foot of Spring Garden Street. Because the site is owned by the DRWC, a quasi-city agency, planners say the transformation of this area is much more in the public’s control than privately owned riverfront property.

But there is “pre-development” environmental remediation and planning work that needs to happen before an RFP to look for a private developer can go out, DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin and Master Plan Manager Sarah Thorp told the DRWC board late last week.

The entire site is 11.5 acres, Forkin said. The incinerator took up about 7 of those acres, he said. A lot of remediation was done – also using grant money – when the former incinerator was demolished in the early 2000s, Forkin said. At the time, the DRWC only wanted to use the land as a parking lot, and so that is the environmental certification it sought and received.

Forkin said the state Department of Environmental Protection has told DRWC that it will be receiving a $237,000 grant this fall. That grant will allow DRWC to get residential use certification for the site, Forkin said. The money will pay for a vapor study to ensure that no harmful gasses “escape from the site,” Forkin said. The vapor study “should give us the clearance we need for residential,” he told the board.

In a later interview, Forkin said that because there is so little land at the site – it is mostly supported by piers and other structures – there is not much room for gas to accumulate, and so the DRWC expects to pass the vapor test and receive the residential certification without further remedial work.

If the test shows further remediation or precautions are needed, there is enough money in the grant to develop a plan on how it will be handled.  In some cases, developers must first lay down a vapor barrier, he said. In other cases, buildings must have concrete slabs to act as barriers.

A second DEP grant for $50,000 will be used to do preliminary planning which will enable the corporation to better craft an RFP seeking a private developer for the site, Forkin said.

DRWC expects to receive the DEP money this fall.

The DRWC  has also won a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study of the existing conditions at the site – including the piles and other substructures beneath the surface. 

Thorp also announced that the site has been chosen by the American Architectural Foundation as the subject of a sustainable cities design charrette. This week, AAF representatives will be meeting with folks from DRWC to “go over what our goals are” for the site, Thorp said. This will help the AAF determine the right sustainability experts to send to Philadelphia for the charrette, which will be held October 2, 3, and 4.

DRWC President Tom Corcoran said these types of “small, but impactful” grants are highly important in the waterfront re-development process.

Board Member William Hankowsky noted that the design charrette would bring national exposure to the riverfront work.

Reach the reporter at kgates@planphilly.com.

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