Summer version of Winterfest coming to Penn’s Landing; new pier parks opening this summer and fall

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation’s Winterfest helped make this ice skating season the most successful yet, DRWC Vice President Jodie Milkman told the board’s executive committee Thursday. And DRWC staffers are hoping for similar success with warm weather activities at the Penn’s Landing Marina this summer.

Nearly 70,000 skaters visited the Independence Blue Cross River Rink this season, Milkman said, despite the rink being closed a record 13 days due to foul winter weather. That’s about 14,000 more than last year, and 10,000 more than the best prior seasons, she said.

“There were 14,000 in the week between Christmas and New Years, and we lost two days during that week,” Milkman said.

Contributing factors: There were more skating sessions each day. Thanks to a Blue Cross sponsorship, Blue Cross cardholders got free admission. But beyond that, Winterfest included landscaping, lighting, a holiday light show, pop-up restaurant and shops, seating and fire pits. Some of those features remained even after the holiday season.

“It was the first time we engaged in place-making (there),” said DRWC President Tom Corcoran. “It worked very well, and it created a lot of buzz. People want to see it continue as a tradition.” 

The skating season ended Sunday, but plans are underway for the summer-time equivalent of Winterfest, using a $310,000 ArtPlace America “placemaking” grant to achieve a better sense of place around the Boat Basin at Penn’s Landing. “We will use art and entertainment to activate a new public space,” Milkman said.

In an email later in the day, Milkman said the design is in its final stages, and so is the “costing.”  While the bottom line isn’t concrete yet, DRWC expects “to at least match the grant with DRWC funds.”  Matching isn’t a grant requirement, Milkman said, “but will be necessary to achieve the desired program.”

The name of the program hasn’t been finalized yet, either. Staffers have been referring to it as Art Place for now, Milkman said.

ArtPlace materials say the grant will be used to create a “river stage.” Milkman said lots of good ideas are being considered, with more details to come to the board closer to a June 25th DRWC fundraiser that will launch the use of the space, which will open to the public the next day. It will remain open through Labor Day, she said.

In other DRWC project news, planner Lizzie Woods reported that this pesky winter has delayed construction on the Pier 53 park. “We lost some time due to the weather, but we are trying to make it up,” she said. “We are still expecting to open this summer.”

Vice President Joe Forkin added that snow kept workers off the site for 2.5 weeks, but a mid-summer opening, around the end of July, is still possible. Corcoran noted the park will mesh with the existing Washington Avenue Green and include both a boardwalk and public art at the end of the pier. “It will be a spectacular park,” he said.

Woods noted that planning work continues further down the river at Pier 68, where a team led by Studio Bryan Hanes will create a wetlands park, with fishing facilities. The first public meeting was held in February, and those ideas are being used to create the design concepts that will soon be presented to the DRWC planning committee. The design is expected to be completed in late spring, Woods said, with construction starting soon after and a fall park opening.

Woods said there will be two more public meetings on Pier 68, and likely one more on Pier 53, but none have been scheduled yet.

DRWC Planner Karen Thompson reported that the design for the Spring Garden Connector was well received by the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association and Wednesday won conceptual approval from the Philadelphia Art Commission. Construction of that project is set to begin this summer, with a fall completion anticipated.

The DRWC Executive Committee also voted to allow staff to negotiate an extended lease agreement with Sterling Helicopter, which operates the Pier 36 South Heliport.

Forkin explained that during the course of normal inspection, it was discovered that the pier needed about $500,000 worth of repairs. Since DRWC owns the pier, it applied for and won a federal Bureau of Aviation grant. DRWC is required to pay 20 percent of the cost – and the grant will cover the rest. But it comes with a condition: The federal government requires the lease be in place for at least the life span of the improvements, or 10 years. Since the current lease expires in 2019, DRWC will negotiate a five-year extension.

Forkin said Sterling has leased the space for years, dating back to the 1980s. The lease amount is currently about $130,000 annually, he said, and the new lease will likely include only small increases, based on the consumer price index. However, a property appraisal will be done in 2019 to determine value, and that could impact the cost, Forkin said.

Watch video of the meeting, led by DRWC Chairman Donn Scott, below.

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