Final design phase begins for riverfront park in Bridesburg

PlanPhilly | By Hayden Mitman

Tucked away behind a parking lot filled with yellow school buses and a busy metal recycling facility along the Delaware River in Bridesburg, there is a rutted, weed-strewn 10-acre lot. It might not look like much today, but plans are underway to bring life to the unused space by making it the home to a new riverfront park and multi-use community space.

On Saturday, city officials joined neighbors at the site along the river, located near the intersection of Delaware Avenue and Orthodox Street, to announce the launch of a 15-month design process to determine just what the coming park could include.

“We are in design and we will have another 15 months to go, but we will get there,” promised Robert Borski, chairman of the Delaware River City Corporation, on Saturday.

As Borski strolled the lot — where thick weeds stood knee-high and thin trees, limbs bare for the season, erupted through long, deep cracks in the pavement – he explained how planners obtained the 10-acre property that will be used to create the new park through a complicated land swap.

As he detailed how Dietz & Watson worked with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) on the trade that secured land for the park while giving the company needed real estate for an expansion project following a 2013 fire, the trademark clang of scrap metal being processed at the nearby Kuusakoski Recycling plant filled the air.

But, Borski said, that noise could eventually be overshadowed by the sounds of live music and families enjoying nature thanks to the $800,000 – a $500,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation plus $300,000 in city capital funds secured for the project by City Councilman Bobby Henon – for drafting final designs for the space.

A conceptual 2015 master plan for the park shows prospective designs for a rain garden, picnic area, a boardwalk at the waterfront and a stage at the central lawn.

Those plans aren’t yet set in stone – there will be a series of community meetings, beginning in January, to discuss ideas and options – but the hope is that the park could look something similar to South Philly’s Penn’s Landing with a bandstand for performances and room for locals to access the river.

“The river was pretty much taken away from us,” said Borski, discussing how riverfront land in Port Richmond and Bridesburg has long been dominated by largely industrial use. “It’s our mission to take it back.”

In addressing the gathered crowd on Saturday, Henon said the he was proud of his office’s ability to secure needed fund for the park’s design phase.

“We’ve been separated from our river. But, we’re not going to be separated for much longer,” said the councilman.

The park will connect residents to the North Delaware Riverfront Greenway — a planned 11-mile section of trails and parks along the Delaware River through Northeast Philadelphia — through the existing Port Richmond Trail and the Delaware Avenue Extension to the south, and connecting to the existing K&T Trail to the north.

Construction costs for the park are expected to come in somewhere between five to seven million dollars, which planners are still working to secure.

The land development engineering and environmental consulting company Langan has been selected to lead the park design.

“It’s going to be truly extraordinary when it happens,” said Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department of the coming park. “You just can’t believe that this kind of space exists here and is untapped.”

While construction for the park won’t begin at least until early 2019, Borski said he has high hopes for the site and, after years of planning, he is excited to be able to begin the process to help the community work with the city to build a park that could be a real amenity for the City of Philadelphia.

“This is going to be a tremendous asset for the community of Bridesburg,” said Borski.