Currently in Philadelphia, of the 1,146 acres of land along the central Delaware, only 8 acres are parkland. These 8 acres make up two neighborhood parks: Penn Treaty Park and Pulaski Park.
Penn Treaty Park, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphians love their parks. Add a series of parks to the riverfront linked by a greenway and a water view and you have a special asset for the city that will generate millions to billions in new investment. Chicago built the 24.5-acre Millennium Park along its waterfront to spur economic growth. The city’s public investment of $270 million was originally expected to return $1.4 billion of private investment over ten years, but now the return is believed to total over $5 billion in job growth and tax revenue (27). Adjacent property owners are seeing an average bonus for units near the park of $100 per square foot and absorption rates 30 to 50 percent faster than those of comparable projects away from the park. In addition, the existence of Millennium Park played a role in attracting both Boeing and the BP subsidiary Innovence to locate their corporate headquarters in Chicago (28).
A park within a ten-minute walk or a quarter mile of every home or neighborhood is the civic vision’s goal for the central Delaware. To achieve this goal, publicly owned land will need to be transformed into larger destination parks. Private owners will be encouraged but not required to create small parks to serve their residents, customers and workers, as well as the public. The advantage of linking new development with a park is clear. For the owner, a single small park can raise property value by 30 percent, well beyond the costs of creating and maintaining the park (29). Nearby residential and commercial development will provide the people needed to keep parks lively, active and safe, day and night.
Millennium Park, which transformed 16.5 acres of underutilized land along Chicago's lakefront, is expected to yield $5 billion in job growth and tax revenue in its first ten years.
To reach this goal, we must accomplish the following:
Create destination parks on public land at the Festival Pier, former incinerator site and Penn’s Landing. On the few publicly owned parcels within the central Delaware, we can provide parks that will serve the entire city and region. Two adjacent pieces of public land, located at Spring Garden Street, Festival Pier and the former incinerator site, currently serve as concert locations during warm months. By taking better advantage of these sites—adding attractive gathering areas, events and activities—we could make them lively, year-round destinations for residents and tourists. On Penn’s Landing, from Walnut to Market Streets along the river, an extraordinary opportunity exists to replace cement with grass and create a great lawn where Philadelphians can play games, sunbathe or read. Other activities could be offered, including water features such as splash pads that provide a playground for kids, interactive public art and attractive viewing areas for watching ships. As the popularity of these new destination parks grows, Philadelphia could extend the riverfront and add performance space by using a floating concert and movie barge, as cities across the country have done.
Open publicly controlled piers, such as Pier 11 beneath the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, for public use and provide unique waterfront-recreation spaces. New York City’s Hudson River Park converted one former shipping pier into a dog run, another into a golf driving range and some piers into playgrounds for children. The piers, like all potential park sites, must be tested for environmental contamination, and environmental remediation must be completed if needed. Parks and green spaces built on former industrial sites must be cleaned to the same level required for residential properties, with virtually all contamination removed.
Improve the existing 8 acres of parkland. Fishtown’s Penn Treaty Park and Port Richmond’s Pulaski Park provide the riverfront’s only parkland, yet both need significant improvements. Although the Fairmount Park Commission controls Penn Treaty and the Philadelphia Department of Recreation controls Pulaski Park, maintenance has been left largely to volunteer friends-of-park organizations. Penn Treaty will have an opportunity to create a master plan for improvements and upgrades through a grant from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). It is hoped that Pulaski Park will have a similar opportunity in the next year.
Expand boating and fishing opportunities along the central Delaware by building a public marina and fishing piers and encouraging private boat-rental operations along the river. Today, motor boating is a popular river activity, yet there are no active public marinas on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware and just a few private marinas. Activating the public marina in the boat basin of Penn’s Landing would provide a much-needed place to launch and dock boats. Motorboat, kayak and canoe rentals would give many households the chance to enjoy the river (30). Less experienced kayakers and canoeists could be driven to a safe, calm launching point without currents or wakes from large ships and could be returned to centrally located Penn’s Landing after their trips. Well-maintained, safe fishing piers and a cleaner river’s edge will also expand the small number of locations from which residents can enjoy fishing.
Economic: Parks raise values of nearby properties and attract new investment, employers and residents.
Environmental: Parks help manage stormwater, keep air clean and connect city residents to nature.
Community: Parks improve health by providing places to play and exercise and bring residents together.
Impact on City Budget: The cost to create a recreational park is approximately $1.75 million per acre (32). This figure does not include funding for environmental remediation if the soil is contaminated. Ongoing costs, based on a study of New York City waterfront public-space maintenance, are $55,000 per acre for maintenance and landscaping and $18,000 per acre for security.
Cities are building parks to attract economic development, and the strategy is working. Chicago transformed 16.5 acres of commuter rail lines, a surface parking lot and another 8 acres of shabby parkland that fronted historic Michigan Avenue into Millennium Park, attracting billions of dollars of new investment. San Jose and Louisville built waterfront parks and attracted about four private investment dollars for every public dollar invested. Parks are good business.
Funding has already been approved for the improvement of Penn Treaty Park: The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has granted funding to create a master plan and to implement improvements.
Take Me to the River Grant Program (DVRPC): A $1 million grant pool is available for projects to improve riverfront areas.
Trump Tower and Penn Treaty Tower riparian lease agreement: Under the state’s riparian land lease, Trump and Penn Treaty Towers must dedicate 50 cents for every square foot of building space to implementing the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware.
Grants from private local and national foundations.
Keystone Community Grant Program (DCNR) gives grants to governments to support the planning, design and development of greenways and parks. Planning grants are typically $50,000 or less. Land acquisition and construction grants range from $150,000 to $200,000.
Tax Increment Financing: As noted, creating a TIF district is an excellent way to generate funds for creating and maintaining parks.
Legislative Initiative Grants, or WAMs (Walking Around Money), are state discretionary funds available to create or improve parks.
Four percent of gross casino revenues are specified by the Commonwealth’s Gaming Act to offset increased city operating costs for managing the impact of the casinos on transportation, the police, and the health, safety and social welfare of areas surrounding the casinos.