Making Port Richmond's waterfront the place to be once again

A Port Richmond resident Janusz Kowalski, right, obtains information of the I-95 project from Doug Robbins of URS Corporation at a public meeting event held at Campbell Square Park in Port Richmond section of Philadelphia Wednesday May 25

In Port Richmond, a comfortably warm and sunny spring evening last week was peppered with information on the future of the Delaware River waterfront.

The event intended to allow locals from all walks of life to learn about plans for the long desolate swath of riverfront.

Unlike most meetings on waterfront planning and zoning, organizers basked in the sunshine and neighborhood children zipped through Campbell Square for “It Ain’t Your Grand Pop’s Riverfront Anymore,” a collaborative meeting presented by the New Kensington Community Development Corp. and Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic Association.

“You know why it’s called Port Richmond?” Patty-Pat Kozlowski, director of PROPAC, asked the crowd of about 100 residents.

“Because we have a port,” she said.

Reminding residents of years past, Kozlowski said that there was a time when locals didn’t just access the river regularly — a difficult prospect now with I-95 cutting through the community and various property owners closing off their riverfront sites — but the river was the place to be for locals.

“Everyone went down to the river,” she said. “This was our Jersey shore.”

It’s a time that representatives from a number of organizations, including the Delaware River City Corporation and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, seem eager to bring back, and they presented separate plans for the future of the waterfront last Wednesday.

Tom Branigan, executive director of the DRCC, presented a proposal for a riverfront trail that would allow residents to walk along the Delaware River from about Allegheny Avenue to Grant Avenue.

It would be a 12-foot wide trail, about 1.5 miles long, to allow walking and biking along the river north of Allegheny Avenue.

It could be completed within the next four or five years, he said.

“There’s going to be some wonderful changes on the river,” said Branigan.

Also, the DRCC plan would add areas for movie presentations on the riverfront and, though nothing is final, possibly an amphitheater for concerts. 

“There’s really not a legal spot, and the key word is legal, to get to the river, besides Pulaski Park,” noted Kozlowski, applauding the DRCC plan.

Added access to the river, from Allegheny Avenue south to Oregon Avenue, was a focus of the soon to be unveiled Master Plan for the Delaware Riverfront, developed by the DRWC.

For the past 17 months, the DRWC, using a two-year, $5 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, has created a plan that could help bring small parks to nearly every “connector street” along this seven mile stretch of the riverfront.

According to Sarah Thorp, master planning manager for the DRWC, the idea is to turn the spots where streets like Cumberland, Berks and Allegheny streets meet the river into small parks, similar to what has been done to Center City’s Race Street Pier.

While designs shown last week were merely a draft — the final plan will be unveiled on Monday, June 13, in a meeting on Festival Pier, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. — Thorp showed how some of the parks could include amenities like a sandy beach area with volleyball courts or an area designated for kayaking.

“It’s really an exciting plan,” said Thorp. “We are still going to have tons of community input.”

Thorp said various concerns over property ownership hinders some of the elements of the plan, but within the next decade, she believes, the master plan could see the riverfront transformed into a destination with myriad areas for residents to access the waters of the Delaware River.

To discuss a project currently underway, Marian Hull, planning group leader for URS Corporation, a group contracted by PennDOT for the I-95 Revive project, discussed where the project stands and what lies in store for the surrounding area.

Construction on the project is going smoothly, she said, and soon it will be time for residents to discuss sound walls, an important element of the project and one that the community will have a significant impact on.

“The final decision is up to the people who live along these corridors, if they want them or not,” she said.

Hull also said residents will be able to have input on location, material and façade used for any and all sound walls that could come to the community.

There will be upcoming meetings in June to discuss the sound walls, she said.

As children played in the park and their parents, many holding panting dogs on leashes, listened to plans for the riverfront, Kozlowski said she wanted to host a more laid back meeting, because as a reporter herself, she was often bored at stuffy public informational meetings.

“If I was bored, other people in the meetings were bored,” she said. “We wanted to have a nice community meeting. The only time everybody comes together is when something bad happens.”

As her one-and-a-half year old daughter, Ivy Clark, chomped on cold pizza crust, Maggie Kaiser said she was glad for the open-air community meeting, because as a life-long community resident, she learned a lot about the riverfront.

“I always thought I was breaking the law by going over to the river,” she said. “It’s like, I’m sorry, but I want to go there. Even if they don’t do all this, at least let us go down there.”

At the end of the meeting, Kozlowski reminded residents that it’s important to attend community meetings — even the boring ones — because residents need to have a voice in the planning for the future of their neighborhood.

“At the end of the night, we are the ones who sleep here,” she said. “That’s our riverfront.”

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com 

Have your say

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation will unveil its Master Plan for the Central Delaware riverfront on Monday, June 13, at the Pavilion at Festival Pier, Delaware Avenue and Spring Garden Street, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

To RSVP for the event, email rsvp@delawareriverwaterfrontcorp.com. The meeting will be open to the public and there will be a period for public input.

Also, PennDOT will be holding two meetings to discuss plans for sound walls along I-95. Residents will have input.

The meetings will be held on the Wednesday, June 8 and Wednesday, June 15. Both meetings will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 at Holy Name of Jesus Church at 701 E. Gaul St.