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Waterfront Winterfest brings ice rink, lodge, shopping, dining and more to Penn’s Landing

The Waterfront Winterfest at Penn’s Landing, opening Nov. 29, had me at “homemade Thanksgiving leftover ‘Hot Pockets'” and “caramelized pumpkin donuts,” but that’s just the beginning of the treats that Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) has planned for this winter wonderland.  

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Independence Blue Cross (IBC) RiverRink, DRWC has planned Waterfront Winterfest, complete with a winter garden and forest, restaurant lodge, holiday art market and boutique, light show, rotating entertainment schedule and, of course, the city’s only Olympic-sized ice rink. All of this and more will be available to the public at Penn’s Landing from Nov. 29 through Jan. 5. 

“We’re basically trying to re-imagine and re-envision how Philadelphia can celebrate the holidays and kind of [put] a new tweak on the holiday experience,” said Jodie Milkman, vice president of communications and programming at DRWC.

To do that, DRWC reached out to Philadelphia’s own talent pool. David Fierabend of Groundswell Design Group designed the 500-person warming tent and the seasonal winter garden. Favorite Philadelphia chef George Sabatino will be cooking up his new takes on winter classics (those Thanksgiving leftover Hot Pockets mentioned above and beyond) at The Lodge, Winterfest’s temporary restaurant. Old City’s Art Star Gallery and Boutique has curated the holiday market, and Ricardo Rivera of Klip Collective has arranged an hourly holiday light show using his video projection mapping techniques. 

DRWC also partnered the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). Some of the shipping containers, tables, rustic seating and other furniture that were used in the PHS Pop Up Garden are being recycled and used as part of the Waterfront Winterfest winter garden. 

This is the fifth year DRWC is hosting two New Year’s Eve firework shows – one at 6pm and another at midnight. According to Milkman, adding the second show more than doubled the fireworks’ economic impact on area hotels and restaurants.  

As always, the IBC RiverRink will be the center of the activity and will offer public skating sessions, parties, private functions and skate rentals and sharpening. The rink also has a heated facility, viewing areas, private party rooms, video game rooms and public restrooms. 

“This year we decided that we really wanted to help grow this program and mobilize it in the direction that the waterfront is heading,” Milkman said. 

In May, DRWC received a $310,000 ArtPlace grant to place-make and activate the Delaware River waterfront by turning the Penn’s Landing Boat Basin into a waterfront “River Stage” complete with programming. While DRWC is still working out the details for that project, which is scheduled for this coming summer, they realized that some of the capital investments they were making for the Art Place program could be pre-used for Winterfest. 

“We’re doing things in synergy with the ArtPlace program,” Milkman said. For instance, some of the landscaping investments made in preparation for Winterfest will support the ArtPlace activity, and the cargo containers that DRWC will use for the pop-up restaurant this winter will be reused this summer. 

“A lot of those cost synergies and savings are what allowed for both of these programs to happen,” Milkman said. 

She said programs like these also depend on committed sponsors like IBC, which has sponsored the ice rink for 20 years, and Sugar House Casino, without which Milkman said the fireworks would not happen.

“It’s helpful for people to understand that the city doesn’t have budgets for things like this… but through these really unique and strong public-private partnerships we are able to have these great programs,” she said. 

Waterfront Winterfest

Location: Penn’s Landing, 101 S. Columbus Blvd, on Columbus Boulevard at Market Street

Dates: November 29 – January 5

Times: 11am – 1am daily; 1pm – 9pm Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Cost: Waterfront Winterfest Admission: Free; Skating prices: Admission $3 (free Monday – Thursday before 5pm, December 2 – 19), Skate Rental $10, Parking Monday – Thursday $12, Parking Friday – Sunday $15

Special events: Opening Day, November 29; Christmas Tree Lighting, December 6; Parties on Ice, December 31; New Year’s Eve Fireworks, December 31

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