If you manage to avoid sliding down the soggy slope that separates Wal-Mart from the uninviting, trash-ridden space that is Pier 68 in South Philadelphia, you’ll see a sign of things to come.
Nestled between signs warning of danger, video surveillance and prosecution for trespassing, is a sign promising something better in the future.
“Coming soon, the newest park on the Central Delaware Waterfront, Pier 68,” it reads.
Posted on a fence topped with barbed wire, the sign is a lone symbol of progress at the site of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.’s next attempt at turning forlorn eyesores into sought-after green spaces.
Set for a $1.7 million transformation, Pier 68 is the latest development project in the city’s Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which is transforming the once neglected Philadelphia waterfront pier by pier.
“There has been this pent up demand for waterfront access that has been there for so long,” said DRWC Planner and Pier 68 Project Manager Lizzie Woods.
“This pier will have that space and also have educational programming tied into it,” she added.
Woods said Pier 68 is designed to accommodate the demand for fishing along the river, but there will also be a green area with a plaza, benches and tables for visitors.
When planners decided Pier 68 was next in line for a makeover, Woods said the first step was securing the location, which was owned by a real estate investment trust.
A grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources allowed the DRWC to purchase the land for half its market value. The other half was donated as a tax benefit, Woods said.
At the time, proposals from eight architectural firms were examined, with Woods seeking a team with a landscape architect, contractor and prior experience in similar projects.
Studio Bryan Hanes, which had done the work on the Race Street Pier, was eventually awarded the task of providing a similar facelift to Pier 68.
“We were familiar with his other work and the response he’s gotten,” Woods said, calling Hanes’ style a “sophisticated design aesthetic that isn’t too standoffish or aloof.”
“We like to create those kind of spaces,” she said.
The endeavor was funded through grants from the William Penn Foundation, the city of Philadelphia capital budget, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Wells Fargo, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Pier 68’s neighbor, Wal-Mart.
The national retail chain donated $200,000 of the nearly $2 million budget.
Store Manager Frank Pellicori said the store is behind anything that will benefit the community.
“We’re all the same family down here,” he said. “It will be great to see the area around us getting spruced up.”
Via the DRWC, the finalized design features:
- An entrance deck with wood paving, seating and site furnishings that register water elevation. Located just off the future Central Delaware trail extension, this space will serve as a resting spot for those using the trail and as a place where shopping center visitors can quickly experience the Pier Park.
- A collection of native trees that begin to conceal the parking lot and traffic to the west. These trees will serve as a threshold, marking that visitors have crossed into a new riverside environment.
- A picnic grove, where a gravel walking surface and a combination of furnishings and trees will create a space to rest and enjoy the shade.
- A 4.5-foot-deep aquatic cut into the pier surface, allowing water to filter up through the lower wood deck and reveal the tidal activity of the Delaware River. Filled with native, aquatic plants and crossed with a simple rope and cable bridge structure, this space will become a focal point for educators and curious visitors. Students will have the opportunity to observe and learn about the Delaware’s changes in water elevation and what this means for vegetation, fish and wildlife populations.
- An angled lawn for lounging and sunbathing, accompanied by a long linear bench for seating.
- A waterside walk and the open pier terminus will support a variety of events and activities, such as recreational fishing or gathering to watch holiday fireworks.
“Once [funding] gets awarded, I just work with the team to make sure they stay on schedule and that they create a design that is receptive both to needs of our organization and also the public,” Woods said.
Woods said the construction on Pier 68 is slated to begin this winter and be completed in time for summer.
In previous years, the city’s focus on the Delaware has mainly been Penn’s Landing. Now, that focus is shifting into communities.
“We pivoted away from that and tried to focus on the neighborhoods outside that central area to provide good public spaces that aren’t gigantic or huge but that are still valued by the community,” she said.
Next up on the laundry list of improvements along the Delaware is a trail that would connect Pier 68 with Pier 53, opened earlier this year and renamed Washington Avenue Green.
Construction will start once documentation is finalized in the coming months, Woods said.
“People do always have opinions on what next project should be,” Woods said. “Once they see we actually go through with it, they have a ton of input and we’re all about that.”
Images, text and video by Nodyia Fedrick and Joe Dolinsky.