The first step toward turning four, privately owned South Philadelphia piers into a public waterfront trail and wetlands parks has been taken.
Through a $1.25 million state grant and a matching charitable donation from landowner Delaware Associates, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation – the agency charged with managing the city's waterfront property and future plans for the waterfront – will take ownership of five acres of dry land and 11 acres of submerged riparian land on and around Piers 64, 67, 68 and 70. According to city tax records, Delaware Associates LP is owned by principals of the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, including Ron Rubin. A call to Rubin for comment was not immediately returned late in the business day Thursday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources awarded the grant to non-profit Natural Lands Trust on behalf of the DRWC. The Central Delaware Master Plan, which the city planning commission is expected to vote on next week, calls for this property behind the Walmart and other big box development to become restored wetlands and parkland, and to be tied into a seven-mile waterfront trail.
DRWC Board Member and Penn School of Design Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor says this is a critical partnership
That could have never happened without the DRWC gaining control of the property, said DRWC board members Alan Greenberger and Marilyn Jordan Taylor after the board's executive committee voted to accept the grant and land acquisition. The Master Plan covers land between Oregon and Allegheny Avenues, from the river to I-95. The majority of that land is in private hands.
“This acquisition is a very important thing,” said Greenberger, the city's deputy mayor for economic development. “It demonstrated that there are methods through public-private partnerships to acquire land to implement the master plan,” he said. “It's a great example of what we can do.”
The DRWC vote
The Master Plan sketches out rough ideas for this area, but more detailed planning will be needed. Greenberger said the land should be under DRWC control within several months. Current conditions must be determined before much else can be done, he said, and it may be necessary to create the wetlands park and trail section happen in phases, over time.
What is certain is that no private development will occur on the land, he said.
DRWC Board Member and Deputy Mayor for Commerce Alan Greenberger and DRWC Vice President Joe Forkin talk about the deal and the land's future.
”This award marks another step on our way to creating the best waterfront in the country, a green, sustainable gem along the river where people live, work and play,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter in a printed statement. “I would like to thank DRWC for collaborating with Natural Lands Trust on this important project. It is only through working with partners that we will continue to build on our successes at the Delaware River waterfront.”
“We are thrilled to be partnering with DRWC on a project that will benefit both the environment and city residents,”said Natural Lands Trust president Molly Morrison. “Nearly 60 years ago, at the infancy of our organization, Natural Lands Trust worked to protect a different section of land along the Delaware River—now the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. This project represents a return to the city for us in our land protection work and, as such, has special meaning.”
In a separate, early grant, DCNR awarded DRWC $250,000 toward funding a portion of the design and construction costs for the on‐pier improvements for Pier 53 at Washington Avenue Green, including ecological restoration which will serve as the northern boundary of the future wetlands park that the latest acquisition will also be part of. These improvements include the construction of a self-supported boardwalk and kayak launch to increase public access to the Delaware River.
"This land acquisition represents a great step towards the waterfront we're trying to create," said Matt Ruben, chairman of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, an organization of river ward representatives that pushes for the public's goals for the waterfront. "We commend the DRWC for getting this done and look forward to seeing the trail and park take shape on the site."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included a quote from Steven Weixler, former CDAG chair, that was taken from a press release. Weixler did not make the statement. A later version posted to the DRWC's website attributes the same quote to current CDAG Chair Matt Ruben.