By Kellie Patrick Gates
The two men who will be largely responsible for translating Philadelphia's goals for the riverfront into a document that will make them a reality did some ground work at Wednesday's Central Delaware Advocacy Group meeting.
CDAG members represent civic groups and organizations along the waterfront. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation – the city-created agency responsible for overseeing the creation of the Central Delaware master plan – views the group as an information conduit that links the DRWC with city residents. So it was important that Alex Cooper, founding partner of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, http://www.cooperrobertson.com and John Alschuler, chairman of HR&A Advisors, http://www.hraadvisors.com get to know the group early on, said DRWC President Tom Corcoran.
“It's the first day of getting the Master Plan work running,” he said. “We wanted it to be here with CDAG.”
Cooper literally wanted to meet and greet – he requested that every board member and alternate present introduce themselves. He, Alschuler and Sarah Thorp – the DRWC master plan manager – then made a few big-picture remarks about the task ahead of them, which is expected to take about a year.
Thorp said there will be at least three “huge meetings” for public comment, plus 15 or 20 smaller sessions with stakeholders.
Cooper and Alschuler made it clear that they will also rely very heavily upon the Vision and Action Plans for the Central Delaware Waterfront – documents put together by Penn Praxis and CDAG after more than a year of public sessions. They also say they understand what a big deal the waterfront has been and should continue to be to Philadelphia.
“You've done all the work for us,” Cooper said. “It's really nice!”
Alschuler fleshed that out a bit. “This waterfront was the origin of your city. It was an enormous source of jobs and employment for several centuries,” he said. “As that great industrial glacier receded, it left behind all of this residual land and left a question of what, having played a great role for two centuries, in the shaping of your city, what's the role of this land in the shaping of this city for the next century? And I think the vision plan is a very powerful answer to that question.”
The river is a great recreational resource, he said. And if handled right, changes can be made that will not only revitalize the river economically, but re-connect it to its neighborhoods.
Cooper and Alschuler said parks and open spaces were definitely the way to start some magic. Just the night before the meeting, the DRWC announced the chosen design for the Race Street Pier – formerly known as Pier 11 – an “early action” part of the waterfront renewal project.
The duo also kept reality close at hand. Cooper said the seven-mile project was the most ambitious he's seen, and it was important to make choices about what projects would create the most bang for the buck. Alschuler said all the revamped riverfronts that people praise happened through a hefty dose of public investment. Unfortunately, Philadelphia – other cities, too – don't have a lot of spare change these days. Work must be done to find other sources of money, and encouraging private investment will be critical.
The planner-types spoke only briefly before opening the floor to questions. “We want to listen more than talk,” Thorp said.
They got plenty of suggestions, and in each case said they were already taking the matters into consideration as they worked, or they would now look into them.
CDAG Chairman Steve Weixler said he knows I-95 – which cuts off most of the waterfront neighborhoods from the river - isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Still, he asked that nothing go into the plan that would prevent all or parts of it from being buried or otherwise reckoned with in the future.
Joe Schiavo said he did not want this plan to be added to the dusty pile of waterfront plans that had come before it with no results. He asked that the team ensure everything that goes into the master plan has a corresponding entry in city code.