Marina 1

We at the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) were thrilled to learn last month that we received support from ArtPlace America to help realize our vision for transforming the Marina at Penn’s Landing into a performance space in summer 2014. We’re now in the process of developing a more refined scope for the project, but our intention is to set the stage, literally, for a future in which Philadelphia’s waterfront once again becomes a cultural and economic center of activity. By transforming the Marina at Penn’s Landing into a “river stage” we plan to activate its public spaces, foster civic engagement, and spur economic development. We hope that this will help to create a sense of place at river’s edge and challenge Philadelphians to think differently about what a public space along the waterfront can be. Ideally, the project will not only serve as a catalyst for redevelopment, but it will allow for the arts to help to define future development. By placing the arts at the forefront, ultimately, the development that is realized will be more human-scale, authentic, and distinctly Philadelphia in character.

As background, Penn’s Landing, the site of William Penn’s arrival in Philadelphia, is a recreational area created in the 1970’s by the city of Philadelphia as destination for Philadelphians and visitors to the city. Penn’s Landing continues to be a popular gathering place for concerts, festivals and fireworks, but has not, unfortunately, experienced the high-quality permanent development that was expected by city officials when it was created. To address this problem and invigorate Philadelphia’s Central Delaware waterfront, Mayor Michael A. Nutter formed the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation in 2009. DRWC’s mission is to create and implement master plan for the waterfront and manage the construction of parks and trails to help attract development and investment to vacant or underutilized parcels, as well as provide highly accessible programming and events throughout the summer and to manage the winter Blue Cross RiverRink.

Since then, DRWC has completed the Master Plan for the Central Delaware, which was adopted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and won an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award in 2012. DRWC has also worked to provide high-quality design in its creation of public spaces along the Delaware, including the Race Street Pier, the in-development pier park at Washington Avenue Green, and the first segments of a waterfront recreational trail.

Over the same period, Philadelphia has seen an influx of new artists and an explosion of the performing arts. To leverage this change, and continue to encourage it, DRWC has made it a priority for the Central Waterfront to move beyond its roster of traditional programming and to draw on fresh, artistic energy burgeoning in creative waterfront neighborhood hubs including Old City, Northern Liberties and Fishtown. DRWC seeks to use the ArtPlace America grant to complement this positive growth, putting artists and the arts at the center of a strategy to transform the underutilized marina. DRWC is planning to develop an artistically excellent, unique event that will draw and engage Philadelphians of every social and economic background and reinforce Philadelphia’s distinct character while promoting interest and stewardship for the riverfront.

DRWC is currently working to secure the services of an artistic director to direct the ArtPlace America funded project, and hopes to have an announcement regarding this in our next blog post. While this search is underway, and DRWC works to refine its project scope, two exciting developments have occurred:

-Penn’s Landing planning: The area where DRWC plans to implement its ArtPlace America grant is currently undergoing a detailed engineering and development study by renowned landscape architecture firm Hargreaves Associates. The study commenced last month and will be completed by the end of this year. DRWC hopes that the public will be engaged with the future plans for the site by the project enabled by ArtPlace America and gain momentum for a permanent transformation of the area.

-FringeArts: In additional great news for Philadelphia and the Delaware River waterfront, FringeArts also received an ArtPlace America grant to support the development of an outdoor plaza to provide space for a restaurant/café outside of their new headquarters/theater. Developed inside a historic pumping station and located directly across from the Race Street Pier, the new FringeArts home promises to activate the waterfront with live performances and is an example of the type of high-quality development DRWC seeks to attract.

The key questions for DRWC as it moves forward in developing the project are determining how this effort might further revitalization and economic development. DRWC is interested in how art can spur change. The waterfront was where Philadelphia began, and it has manifested its importance to Philadelphia in many ways over the previous centuries: early settlement, cultural and mercantile capital, industrial powerhouse, decaying but beautiful resource, and recreational and entertainment location.

We hope that our ArtPlace America-funded plan meets the challenge of creating a big opportunity for the waterfront and that we can begin to change minds even before we begin the implementation of the project. One of the exciting outcomes of the development of the Master Plan for the Central Delaware was enabling Philadelphians to look at their waterfront in new ways. This ArtPlace America grant allows DRWC the opportunity to show residents and visitors exciting possibilities and give voice to our city’s future.