Saturday, April 26, 2014

Penn's Landing: If We Build it Will They Come?

A new study by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation has shown that a $250M investment in an overhauled Penn's Landing could generate $1.8B in economic growth.

But hold your horses.

Executing the DRWC's latest master plan could take five to seven years. And the private development, which is entirely speculative, could take at least thirty five years.

This is why I tend to hit the snooze button when I read the words "master plan." Wake me up when I'm 72 and prove me wrong, but I'll probably be in Miami so I can't promise I'll care.

In all seriousness, and in all fairness to those at the DRWC, they've finally addressed one of the fatal flaws in their piss poor project management skills: they're thinking dynamically. They've noted that the existing framework will be a desirable asset to potential developers. They've wrangled a way to get the transportation budget to cover part of the bill.

But they aren't quite there yet.

Any master plan is a potential boondoggle. The $250M price tag could easily double in five to seven years, and five to seven years could turn into ten or fifteen. The plan, stunning as it is, is massive. The park itself covers the equivalent of two city blocks. Grass sound cheap until you consider it needs to cover an interstate and be elevated above the existing Penn's Landing to slope towards the water. That's heavy engineering. To date, the largest project that the DRWC has executed is the Race Street Pier.

That doesn't mean it's impossible, but it does mean it's risky. The problem that still remains in DRWC's master plan is a lack of contingency. It's a broad and cohesive design, which would be great if time and money meant nothing. But because the sloped park is so cohesive, there's no room for failure. If the sloped park is complete and the money dries up, the green meadow will rise above the street to stare down at the I-95 canyon.

Worse, if the city blows through it's $250M budget prepping the site, we could potentially be saddled with a construction zone for the next decade or two, erasing the progress the DRWC has made and discouraging those who call Penn's Landing home.

Don't think small, think smart. How can the master plan retain a cohesive feel while all its components work as successful, independent pieces? Cap I-95 and see if that brings more people to the Penn's Landing we have. Better yet, green Festival Pier and bring some permanent attractions to the water.

The DRWC could have been vying for the Museum of the American Revolution. How about a museum dedicated to Native American history? Seems like an appropriate location. They could work with Gerry Lenfest to bring the SS United States to Penn's Landing.

Give us an exciting, innovative reason to be there. How about a scaled down Adventure World or Splash Mountain? Put an elevator at Race Street to take foodies to the next Iron Chef's restaurant atop one of the concrete towers approaching the Ben Franklin Bridge. The ideas for destination attractions are endless, attractions that make the Delaware River a destination. Let the park follow.

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