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Steve Weixler: Wynn-win for the Delaware?

Steve Weixler: Wynn-win for the Delaware?

IN ANNOUNCING his intention to build a casino at the Foxwoods site in South Philadelphia, Steve Wynn’s introduction to riverfront residents began in choppy water. In an interview, Wynn said he wasn’t aware of the city’s plans for the Delaware riverfront, and said, “You couldn’t do any more damage. . . This whole Penn’s Landing fiction is hysterically funny… that Penn’s Landing is somehow a recreation area.”

While Wynn’s comments were tinged with both arrogance and ignorance, we’re most offended because he’s wrong.

Philadelphia has a vision for its riverfront, and is undergoing its first master plan for the area since 1982. We’ve seen cities across the country develop their waterfronts into recreational amenities.

The Delaware River provides a beautiful backdrop and an incredible opportunity for Philadelphia to evolve into a 21st century riverfront city by extending neighborhoods, providing recreational opportunities and adding to the economic vitality of our communities. At the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, we want the riverfront to finally reach its potential.

With a closer look, what Wynn will find may surprise him: The vision we helped develop isn’t anti-casino, and seeks to provide a long-term framework for dense, urban growth. Perhaps he’ll be most surprised that Philadelphia’s expectations have been raised for what our riverfront can be. In a city in which community groups have a tradition of saying no to development, we’ve created a positive plan for the future.

This type of positive planning is pretty new for the city, and it’s taken us almost four years to get here. In the fall of 2006, Mayor Street formed the Central Delaware Advisory Group to advise PennPraxis in its development of a “Civic Vision for the Central Delaware” (www.planphilly.com/vision).

The process that produced the vision was unique for recent city history both in its large scale and level of transparency, and for its inclusion of civic stakeholders. Fifteen civic associations representing riverfront communities from Whitman in the south to Port Richmond in the north were given a voice in what their riverfront would become.

By the time the vision was unveiled to an overflow audience at the Convention Center, more than 4,000 Philadelphians had participated in the process, and the civic associations of the Central Delaware had voted to form a coalition to advance its recommendations. Since then, organized as the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, we’ve created an action plan (www.planphilly.com/actionplan) embraced by Mayor Nutter. And its initial recommendations to reform the Penn’s Landing Corp., pass a zoning overlay and create a master plan have been implemented.

Several other actions are being taken by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., including design and construction of the Race Street Pier to be opened as a public space in 2011, creation of an interim trail in South Philadelphia, development of a public space at Pier 53 South at Washington Avenue and completion of a master plan for Penn Treaty Park, long a neighborhood jewel in Fishtown.

These improvements, along with the master plan being developed by DRWC, will get us closer to achieving the Civic Vision: a dense, urban, walkable extension of the city’s fabric to the river’s edge.

Wynn has promised “the cutest casino you have ever seen.” Although we have nothing against cute, we are more interested in whether it reflects the development principles we’ve worked to establish. In designing his casino, Wynn can benefit from the work of the Casino Design Workshop, commissioned by Nutter and executed by PennPraxis and a team of experts in 2008.

It shows how casinos can comply with the Civic Vision. Among its suggestions:

  • Reduce the size of parking structures and emphasize mass transit.
  • Ensure a 100-foot green buffer between the development and the river’s edge to filter pollutants and manage storm water.
  • Provide public access at the river’s edge and from the streets that connect the city to the river.
  • Ensure the casino respects the street grid and is an urban building that meets the street line with active street frontage.

We invite Mr. Wynn to review these plans and to meet with us and tour our riverfront. We welcome high-quality development that will further our goal of a world-class riverfront. We’ll take that over cute any day.

Steve Weixler is chairman of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group.

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