Venice Island Is Reborn!

The once blah spit of land is this month's second brilliant transformation.

venice island

The performing arts center, when it was still under construction in June. Photo: Liz Spikol

Tomorrow Mayor Nutter will once again stand at a podium in Philadelphia and talk about the city’s green-friendly, river-related growth as he unveils the new performing arts and recreation center on long forgotten Venice Island, the Guam of Philadelphia. The spit of land in the Schuylkill across from the Manayunk Towpath has served official functions throughout the years, and had a crumbly rec center, but it hasn’t had much of a sense of identity or connection to the mainland. Those who used the rec center didn’t seem to communicate much with the outside world about the island, leaving many in the dark.

That’s all set to change after the hitherto-unknown-to-be-creative folks at the Philadelphia Water Department and Parks and Rec came together for a Kumbaya-style “if they build it, they will come” project spurred by necessity but inspired by, like, Portland.

Here’s how it happened:

A decade ago, the EPA told Philly to get current (pun intended, of course) with its flood control and runoff facilities. The resulting infrastructure overhaul led to other changes as well. You like those fountains in Dilworth Park? Read this from the Daily News:

During a preview tour, Leo Dignam, Parks & Rec’s deputy commissioner for programs, stood among flat granite boulders in the children’s spray garden and laughed when the sprinklers suddenly cut on and showered him.

“This place is amazing,” he said.

But it’s not just for fun. It all links back to the importance of this river. From Hidden City:

With a design led by Andropogon Associates—whose offices are two blocks away—the landscaping between Cotton and Lock Streets make the experience wholly about the river… A rain garden and sprayground on the north side of the Performing Arts Center will provide children and parents with riverside summer relief; they’ll also provide an osmotic education on stormwater, with curving drains and “slides” that clearly illustrate how the water makes its way to the river.

Not only that, but this project connects to the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk — literally. Again, from Hidden City:

At the southern end, the landscaping, which features relief sculptures of local flora and fauna and partly polished, partly sculpted rock benches, tapers off with the island. Here, a small trail leads down to the tip of the island—where the Canal reenters the Schuylkill—and the Norfolk Southern (“Blackie”) Bridge marches overhead. A kayak/boat launch is under consideration for this location. Should that day come, the seafarer can put in there, head for Boathouse Row, and assuming a safe portage around the Fairmount Dam, make for the Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk.

“Should that day come…” Given the way things have been going in Philly, I think that day will come.

Read more coverage of Venice Island at the below links, and get ready for its opening to the public this weekend. More about that on Ticket later this week.

Venice Island Merges Utility, Creativity and Entertainment
The Hidden River On Grand Display
$46M Venice Island playground debuts in Manayunk