Sweet Public Spaces and Development on the Waterfront

Like a hammock over troubled waters.

The water garden at Spruce Street Harbor Park, via the DRWC

The water garden at Spruce Street Harbor Park, via the DRWC

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC), which is giving a shot of adrenaline to Philadelphia’s underused waterfront, is planning several new public spaces to draw people to the water and spur investment. You may have already heard about Spruce Street Harbor Park, a pop-up opening Friday, that’ll have floating barges and gardens, fountains, a boardwalk, a “mist garden,” lots of neat lighting, and a floating restaurant by Jose Garces. A large team of the region’s top designers and architects worked together on the project, including Groundswell Design Group, Interface Studios, and Digsau, as well as The Heads of State (for branding).

The park’s centerpiece will be the “oasis,” three 80’ x 30’ barges with trees and plantings, repurposed cargo containers with the restaurant, and a cantilevered net lounge where visitors can hang 3-4 feet above the water in hammocks. There’ll be colorful bistro tables and chairs, picnic tables, and Amish-made Adirondack chairs. The trees will be illuminated with colored lighting synced with that of the rest of the park. Nearby, seven “floating islands” surrounded by lily pads will house a water garden.

Back on shore, at the Columbus Monument (designed by Robert Venturi), there’ll be more seating and fire pits. The surrounding park will have more than 50 colorful hammocks, and its fountains, which have been off for 15 years, will be reactivated. At night, the trees will be lit with 300 one-meter-long LED tube lights. Repurposed shipping containers painted by local muralists will serve as gateways. The park will extend north on the quay with lounge chairs umbrellas and the “mist garden,” which will consist of seven misting stations resembling gnarled trees and made of iron pipes—lit with colorful LEDs, of course. Next to the marina there’ll be a boardwalk with food, drinks, and games.

DRWC’s Communications Manager Emma Fried-Cassorla said the organization hopes the park will bring more people to the waterfront—and that they’ll come back, maybe in the winter to the pop-up around the ice rink. A longer-range goal is to get developers interested in building on the parking lots adjacent to the marina.

On Thursday, the day before Spruce Street Harbor opens to the public, Mayor Nutter and the DRWC will unveil the design and construction schedule for Pier 68, a planned fishing-focused park to be located in South Philly behind Walmart. Fried-Cassorla said the park will be “fairly passive,” as opposed to programmed with events in the manner of the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing. There’ll be public access to the end of the pier with space set aside specifically for fishing, something Pennsport residents requested. The local landscape architecture firm Studio Bryan Hanes was selected in December to lead the project’s design.

DRWC is also working on Pier 53 near Washington Avenue, which we named The Most Beautiful Development Site in the City. It’ll feature public art by Jody Pinto, who did the popular Fingerspan bridge sculpture in the Wissahickon section of Fairmount Park. There will also be interpretive signage explaining the site’s history, including its role as a major immigration station. Pier 53 will likely open next month.

There are also several projects from private developers planned or underway on the waterfront–nothing of the massive scale proposed before the recession, but that’s probably for the best. PMC Property Group says it wants to break ground in July on a $65 million, 250-unit apartment building on Columbus Boulevard just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge. The development, to be called One Water Street, would rise to 170 feet and replace a vacant lot. The design is by Varenhorst of Philadelphia, the same firm that’s done several other PMC projects in the city.

To the north, SugarHouse Casino is preparing to begin construction on a $155 million expansion, including an expanded gaming floor and a new parking garage, as well as more public waterfront space with a bike path extension.

And to the south, site work has begun for 75 new townhomes, to be called Bridgeview at the Waterfront on Columbus Boulevard in Queen Village. The architect for that project is JKR Partners.

There are other, smaller projects as well: the second part of the FringeArts headquarters with a restaurant and outdoor seating, for example.

Correction and clarification (06/24/14): An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the net lounge hammocks at Spruce Street Harbor Park will suspend visitors 304 feet above the water. (The correct figure is 3-4 feet.) In addition, the sentence describing the LED tube lights near the Columbus Monument has been slightly rephrased to make clear that each light will be one meter long.