Officials break ground on Manayunk’s long-awaited Venice Island renovation project

Mayor Nutter, Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. and approximately 50 additional municipal emissaries and guests were present Tuesday morning on Manayunk’s Venice Island for an official groundbreaking ceremony.

The groundbreaking was held to announce the construction of a new underground storage tank on the island, which will be used to prevent storm water runoff from entering the Schuylkill.

The project, a joint effort between the Philadelphia Water Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, is a cornerstone of the “Green City, Clean Waters” [GCCW] plan.

According to PWD documents, GCCW is designed to significantly reduce the amount of storm water runoff and sewage overflow – known as Combined Sewer Overflow, or CSO – that runs into the river during heavy rains.

GCCW is scheduled to take 25 years to implement and will entail an estimated investment of $2.4 billion.

The entire Venice Island project, which has a pricetag of $46 million, is expected to be complete by 2014.

Phases of construction

Don Bitterlich, Senior Project Manager for Daniel J. Keating Company, the firm tasked with constructing the 400-foot long, 75 feet-wide, 25-foot deep concrete tank, explained its construction.

He said that the initial phase – relocation of the current parking lot – will be finished around Thanksgiving, at which point the focus will shift to excavation, slated to begin in mid-December and conclude in February.

“There will be three thousand truck-loads of dirt to be removed,” said Bitterlich, “and another two or three thousand truck-loads of concrete to be brought in.”

Once available on-site, the concrete will be formed into walls varying in thickness from 18 to 24 inches.

“It’s one big concrete box,” said Bitterlich.

However, lest plans for the site get boxed in, there’s much more in store for Venice Island – and it’s very green.

A place for recreation 

In addition to the water storage tank, the city’s vision for the site includes a multi-faceted recreation center, slated to include basketball courts, a pool, an indoor performing arts center, and increased access to the river.

Above the tank itself, a terraced landscape will be created – said by Bitterlich to include an outdoor amphitheater – and will feature green storm water management systems, according to the mayor’s press office.

Furthermore, the 90-foot by 40-foot pump house will feature a green roof.

“It’s a very green project,” said Bitterlich.

“Combining green space and recreational space is paramount,” said 4th District Councilman Jones.

In addition to serving as an attraction for residents of surrounding areas – possibly drawn by the iconic Manayunk Bridge – the Venice Island facelift will assist local businesses that Jones characterized as having “suffered” in light of recent economic and meteorological events, and give residents – especially children – a place for recreation. 

“All interests will converge around this area,” said Jones. “It’s a great place to work, live, and play.”

He added that, with the addition of a boutique hotel to serve overnight guests, “this would be the best small town in America.”

Working towards a ‘fishable, swimmable, drinkable’ river

Joanne Dahme, Public Affairs Manager for PWD, discussed the intent of the Venice Island project, saying that while the thrust of the project is “all about protecting the water for residents of the city,” she was quick to point out potential for recreation at the site.

“There are incredible recreational opportunities here,” said Dahme, adding that she envisions the river becoming increasingly “fishable, swimmable, and drinkable.”

Dahme, a resident of Roxborough, knows first-hand about the draw of the site – an avid jogger, she uses the path along the canal for her runs, and is looking forward to the benefits of the project on water quality and recreational amenities.

“I’m excited to see it finally kicking off,” she said.

Dahme won’t be alone in her enthusiasm.

“I have two words for you,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, standing before the assembly. “Be excited.”

Nutter: This is the future

Nutter admitted that while this has not been the easiest project to get started, given the many agencies of government involved – “We’re not paving a street here,” he said – he said it will serve as a model for similar endeavors that are large – and complicated.

“This project is more than a big tank,” he said. “This is the future.”

For Jane Lipton, Executive Director of the Manayunk Development Corporation, the project can be encapsulated in one word – reinvention.

“I’m an environmentalist,” she noted, “and what it’s going to do for the quality of water for Philadelphia and for the residents of Manayunk is huge.”

In addition to water quality, she emphasized other projects vital to the Venice Island make-over – the introduction of fresh water into the adjacent canal, and the completion of the bike path from Center City to Valley Forge.

“It’s a connection,” she said, referring to the literal and figurative implications of a finished path.

“Can you imagine what it will be when it’s completed?” she asked. “It will be huge both for this whole part of city and for the region.”

“For all these projects to come online at the same time,” she concluded, “I’m thrilled.”

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