In 2004, Manayunk was faced with a problem. The Philadelphia Water Department needed to put in a sewage overflow tank and had picked Lower Venice Island for its location.
However, the island, tucked in between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill River and accessible from Lock and Cotton streets, was already being used. Visitors to Manayunk’s Main Street used it for parking and there were recreation facilities used by the Manayunk Sports and Social Club.
So the city came up with a solution. PWD and the Parks and Recreation Department, working in conjunction with the Manayunk Development Corporation, came up with a design for the island that would incorporate the tank along with a new recreation center.
Designed by architect Joseph Powell, the new recreation center, called the Lower Venice Island Parks and Performance Center, will feature a playground and sports courts that will be raised to avoid the floodway and the damage that occurred to the old courts because of the water. It will also have a performance facility with 250 seats and have 200 parking spaces. The island is scheduled to open early this summer.
Diane Vaughn and her daughter Malika run the Soft Illusions Fine Art Gallery on nearby Main Street. Since the Lower Venice Island project broke ground in 2009, Vaughn has walked her dog by the construction and has been impressed with the idea. She met one of the developers last year.
“He was very excited about his project,” Vaughn said. “I told him I was very excited for him, hoping that it would bring more people along the street.”
Vaughn said the construction hadn’t been a hindrance on her business, but it has taken away a valuable source of parking for the busy Main Street.
Mike Rose, one of the owners of Manayunk Brewing Company and a member of the Manayunk Development Corporation, is a big supporter of the Lower Venice Island project. But he admits the construction has put a strain on the business community.
“It does have somewhat of an impact on this end of the street,” Rose said. “The first thing out of peoples mouth is, ‘When is this lot going to be available to our customers?’”
In addition to the recreation center and parking, the project should also alleviate the flooding of Manayunk. According to the Water Department, the new underground storage basin can hold up to 4 million gallons of stormwater. This should help Manayunk’s existing stormwater infrastructure during hurricane season when low points in the town get flooded.
Chloe DeLuca, whose family owns the ice-cream and water ice shop Chloe’s Corner on Lock Street, said she’s seen the flooding rise to four feet.
“The whole power will go out, the electricity will go out and ice-cream can melt,” she said. “If there’s less flooding, that would be better.”
Manayunk Brewing Company has seen some of the worst flooding damage. Rose said since 2006, they’ve been on flood watch four times.
Soft Illusions moved up the street to a storefront on higher ground about a year ago. Although Vaughn said the move wasn’t due to flooding, they did always have a greater possibility of flooding on the lower end of the street.
“About two years ago, we did witness quite a bit of flooding,” she said. “It was pretty amazing seeing the river come ashore.”
Overall, the shop owners of Main Street are excited for the project to be completed and not just because of the potential new customers whom the Lower Venice Island Project might bring to their shops. They’re also looking forward to using the facilities themselves.
Vaughn is most excited to see what the performing arts center brings to the community. She said she hoped to get to hear some jazz performers.
“I see art creatively,” she said. “Anything in the visual arts or the performing arts, I’ll be really interested.”
DeLuca said she is also looking for a certain crowd she’s been missing.
“Hopefully it’ll bring my friends back around,” she said. “Since it’s been a construction site, it’s kind of like a vacant area.”
“It’ll be phenomenal,” said Rose. “There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel and we’re looking forward to it.”
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– Text and video by Jesse Bellosi and Nicole Soll. Photos by Nicole Soll