River Stage at the Waterfront

Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC)

Funding Received: 2013
Philadelphia, PA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
October 28, 2014

By Emma Fried-Cassorla

Spruce Street Harbor Park (SSHP) opened on June 27th, 2014, to great fanfare throughout the city and region. Due to tremendous public demand, and a personal request from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the Delaware River Waterfront Corp (DRWC) extended the season through Sunday, September 28. DRWC continued to run programming throughout the month of September, with seasonal additions to complement fall on the waterfront. Spruce Street Harbor Park was built using a substantial grant from ArtPlace America to transform the Penn’s Landing Marina to show visitors the great potential for the space. The objective of the seasonal park was to reconnect Philadelphians and regional visitors to the waterfront, and it has clearly succeeded and surpassed this goal. The park, which was conceptualized by DRWC, Interface Studios, Digsau, and Groundswell Design Group, consists of hammocks, both on-land and over the water, landscaped barges featuring a restaurant and bar, a floating garden, fountains, an urban beach and boardwalk, and numerous seating areas designed to create private “moments” throughout the entirety of the park. The full design of the project including the landscaping and programming evokes the maritime history of the area, and celebrates the River’s industrial past and the bright future ahead.

sshp-duskThe success of the park cannot be overstated. Thousands of comments across social media, in-person interactions and surveys suggest that Spruce Street Harbor Park was the go-to place in Philadelphia this summer for both residents and tourists (Please use this link for a social media recap). Thomas Corcoran, President of DRWC, noted “we thought the park would be popular, but had no idea just how popular it would be.” It is roughly estimated that an average of 35,000 people per week came to visit park and enjoy all of the amenities, with almost double those numbers during the July 4th holiday week. In addition to public input, the park has received numerous accolades which include: being named one of the world’s best urban beaches by the Huffington Post, being included on a list of the world’s coolest floating restaurants by Travel and Leisure, and a “Best of Philly” award from Philadelphia Magazine. DRWC is in the process of creating a social and economic impact study of SSHP, with results to be released later this year. The organization is also working hard to collect public input to inform all development along the waterfront, and is encouraging residents and visitors to submit suggestions through social media, email (info [at] drwc.org) or the website.

SSHP-boardwalk-Matt-Stanley-2Park attendance and usage far exceeded any estimates DRWC had originally. Structures and amenities that were initially built to hold thousands of people have had to be modified to satisfy tens of thousands of people. This has included rotating hammocks and chairs out and coming up with cleaning guidelines, renewing plantings as they become damaged, and modifying food and beverage accessibility during peak times. It has also required an enormous boost in staff, which has been fulfilled using subcontracts to fill security, cleaning and “ambassador” positions. Everyone who works at the site is considered a Spruce Street Harbor Park team member, and is expected to comply by all of the rules of employment including a high level of customer service. It took a couple of weeks for this new staff and our operations systems to learn and mold to the huge crowds.

SSHP-Matt-Stanley-2One of the biggest lessons learned has been to provide an experience that is, in itself, a delight to share – either online or with friends and family. The social media response to this placemaking initiative has been huge, and is one of the main drivers of its success. Once people arrive on-site, they are greeted with a scene that is more beautiful than they could have imagined in this space, and by staff members who are knowledgeable and helpful. There’s a sense of excitement that people clearly have when coming, and the temporariness makes the space seem all that much more special. In fact, the feedback has been so overwhelming that we extended the season and are already planning on how to create this space next year.