17 October 07: And now, readers' thoughts
on the Port Richmond riverfront

About a month ago, CDoc and I went for a spin across the fascinating Delaware Riverfront land in Port Richmond that was once home to warships, coal dumpers and railroad cars belonging to Conrail, who still owns the mostly dormant land. With a comprehensive riverfront development study already under way (and lined up for a November 14 release to the public), it's interesting to consider that there is an over 200 acre contiguous parcel ready for its next generation of use.

When I called Conrail to find out more information on the history of the land and Conrail's plans for it, I was told, "nobody here has the time to have a dialogue about the business of the property with some blog* . . . to be honest, if you were with the Inquirer, it might be different." Oh yeah? Well to be honest, if you were still Pennsylvania Railroad, you would have sold that land for a large profit long ago, because everyone knows that railroad empires were built on real estate, not on trains. Ooooh, no he didn't!

(* - Philly Skyline is a web site, not a blog, but that's really neither here nor there.)

Anyway, that's where Philly Skyline's readers stepped up to bat. We wanted to hear what you would do with the land if it were up to you. Ergo, here are some of your ideas:

  • JI FROM NEWTOWN, BUXCO: I would like to see a very large residential project, yet no rowhomes. Condo towers, upscale townhomes, and i think individual homes might be a little out of place, but maybe not. Everyone wants to live on the river and it will attract many white-collared jobs. Philly needs as many people and homes as she can get now. Also retail space with big name companies. However I do not wanna see big box stores like that in So. Philly or the suburbs. Give it character and let it be unique. Also maybe a large skate park or some community spot, with a river walk.

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  • TIM FROM ROXBOROUGH: What if a developer were to build a green multi-use neighborhood right on the water. Nothing too complicated or showy, but a community that consists of a sustainable design (solar panels, green materials, reusable water, etc.).

    Philadelphia has a model infrastructure for these types of investors (walkability, public transportation, etc.). Maybe some nice condos/townhomes with offices, stores, and restaurants would be a good fit. It's a little bit of everything and it will be built right. If it also had a new city park it would be a winning combination.

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  • ADAM FROM PHILLY: How about something like Seattle's Gas Works Park? That way it would be low impact, open green space, but you could still preserve some of the history and existing structures.

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  • VINNY FROM SOUTH JERSEY: Make it into one gigantic recreational mecca. Not so much of an amusement park, just an awesome park. Simply call it, "Port Richmond on the Delaware."
    •Riverside cafés with riverside dining, with waitresses in roller skates
    •Free boat docking for those who wish to come and go by boat
    •Ferry service to Penn's Landing
    •Ice skating rink
    •Ice hockey rinks
    •Basketball courts
    •A current drive-in movie theater
    •Jogging/bike riding trails
    •Outdoor amphitheater
    •Outdoor rock climbing structures
    •A free open air trolley (San Francisco style) for easy transportation through the park
    •A fishing pier
    In one selected area I say KEEP some of the graffiti splattered ruins that still stand because it would give great character to another skate park that philly deserves (after having Love Park taken away and the Franklin's Paine skate park in no sight of being started), and maybe possibly for a paintball competition field as well.

    Maybe include some riverfront housing with docks.

    Make at least 80 percent of the actual river front public open space. it would be a real gem, with a great view.

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  • NATHANIEL FROM BELLA VISTA: One really is tempted to leave it the fuck alone. And bringing the grid down, in this case, seems like a mistake, a misreading of that particular site. Do we need it to be ruins? Maybe not that either.

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  • ANDREW FROM MOUNT AIRY: In looking at this location in your photos, I think it looks great the way it is. I think the Coal Dumper should be preserved in some fashion. Last year, my wife and I visited San Francisco, and went to the Fort Mason Center. This is a collection of old military buildings on the Bay that have been converted to commercial use. There's great views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, with a marina right next to it (appropriate, since it sits right next to the Marina District neighborhood). Now [in Port Richmond], unfortunately, except for the Coal Dumper, there's no buildings to reuse. But you could certainly build similar type buildings and create a very similar experience.

    1. Turn the Coal Dumper into a skate park. I'm sure the thing needs some major repair and stabilization, though. And since I'm not a skateboarder, maybe it's not real feasible, or very safe.

    2. Create a Museum of Post-Industry. Preserve the basic Dumper structure, and link this site to the Peco Substation just up the river by a biking/walking path. The Museum could be housed in the substation, or another building, and would have displays of how industry came and went, and the effect that had on the people, the land, and the river.

    3. Reuse the site for some kind of maritime/port use. Could he food distribution center move there? Some other port facility?

    4. The site would make for a fantastic world corporate headquarters building; instead of a skyscraper, however, the building would rise only about 6-7 stories, but conform the riverbank and piers.

    5. The views are pretty stunning, so of course some kind of residential development would work.

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  • STEVE FROM TEMPLE: The site is massive for a reason. The Reading Company operated both their rail and ship services from this massive railyard / dock. Given the historical context of the place, it is clear that the grid should NOT be marched all the way to the river at this parcel; but it is also too vast for any one solution.

    A walkway should be constructed along the riverfront. But the Port Richmond parcel also includes several piers and large-scale ruins. In Northern Liberties, many of the condo projects lie on the solid piers, the ones that had warehouses on them in another time. The Port Richmond parcel has opportunity like Penn's Landing, but that property is a grand testament to mismanagement.

    Anything that is done to the Port Richmond parcel must respect its railroad heritage. Placing a Reading steam engine on permanent display would certainly help.

    But my proposal ultimately is: instead of a merciless grid, place a fan of streets along selected rail alignments; a park that includes a lovers' lane (à la the one behind the Waterworks) along the riverfront, a large retail development (not big boxes) along Delaware Avenue shielding a parking garage, and medium-height residential structures (20-30 stories) along the fan pattern elsewhere. To break up monotony, these buildings should be designed by separate architects, and have wildly divergent façade patterns, running the gamut from 19th-century industrial Goth to postmodern ornamentation. Finally, a large station should be built along the old Pennsy line that services as the LRV, and we should immediately look into uses of the old viaduct and embankment system leading up to the parcel as either a new R line of some sort, or as a greenway rail-trail leading through the heart of the city. Include a modern police station, as well as a pedestrian overpass over Delaware Ave, perhaps as part of the station.

    From the river, the complex would be a delightful cacaphony of buildings in different styles with a ten-to-twenty story height difference. Perhaps a large commercial tower can be built there, too; along with improvement inland at least as far as Aramingo Avenue, the entire Port Richmond neighborhood can be greatly improved.

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  • MARK FROM PORT RICHMOND: I live within one block of this land on Lehigh. I think the common mistake is to assume that all land must be developed so it can be used , but it doesn't have to be. The worst ideas are to build houses or buisnesses on the land. I don't think the Pinnacle would have been a better site.

    First: It could be redeveloped into marshland/wildlife sanctuary, assuming it was marshland a long time ago. Mixed in could be some areas that are park-like with boardwalks to walk through the marshland. This would help clean up the contaminated sites around the area. Once this area is converted it would be low cost to keep in shape as it wouldn't formally be a park. Biologists and environmentalists could be recruited from local universities to maintain the area. Money to convert it to marshland could come from the federal government.

    Second, they could make a river walk area like they did with the area on the Schuykill River in Center City. Along this river walk could be a river boat that could take one across to New Jersey. Along with the river walk they could keep the rest of the land as is and let the dirt bikes and people enjoy the area as they do now. It could be a mix of dirt bike trails and walking trails.

    Next, build greenhouses mixed in with the wildlife sanctuary to produce fruits and vegatable. The greenhouses could be run by the Philadelphia school of agriculture so it would be low cost and the wildlife sanctuary part could be run by the local universities. There would be virtually no cost or minimal cost to the city government. Lastly, build a river walk with a giant free arboretum run by local university.

    Ed. note: these ideas are good independent of one another, but it seems unlikely that motorized dirt bikes and an environmental sanctuary could peacefully coexist; it would probably have to be one or the other.

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  • ZUR FROM ZURLAND IN THE GREAT NORTHEAST: Zur here. I was really interested in the Port Richmond Thunderdome series. I used to drink 40s in the 90s down there.

    What a wonderful opportunity to bring some much needed green space into the tight confines of Port Richmond/Fishtown. I would like to suggest a two-fold plan:
    1. Parcel land for use for high/medium density towers and retail on the 95 side.
    2. Use the revenue from the land to build a massive open-use park.
    A key missing point is the current plan for Petty's Island, directly across the River from the site. Pennsauken is committed to returning Petty's Island back to a greener state. It's currently a nasty CITGO transfer station. It would be a shame to not fully utilize what could be a large "park" that would span the river.

    Design notes:

    A. Delaware Avenue must be extended through the plan to allow for full use of the area and to remove the large amount of traffic that currently uses Richmond St. to connect farther north with State Road.

    B. Transit could be possible up through the current train lines allowing a connection with the MFL line. I love the 15 but it is not as effective as the MFL. This could just be a bus in the planning stages. Possible a test bed for some hybrid/electric due to the short length.

    Ed. note: This is GREAT! The Huntingdon el station could have some sort of walkway -- moving sidewalks like in airports? -- that leads the pedestrian across Lehigh Ave onto the viaduct, where a shuttle will take you all the way to the Conrail land.)

    C. High/Medium density residential and or commercial. This is a must for the plan to be feasible. The city cannot afford to just build a large park. Some sponsor must be found. A developer would jump at the chance to use this much land with tax breaks and the city could impose restrictions on design and demand that a certain percentage be used for open space. Low density would prohibit the amount of available open space due to the amount of roads needed.

    Two examples that could be used as models: New York's South Street Seaport plan and Chicago's Lake Point Tower, where architects requested more height to provide more park space. If you want a park -- which I think is almost a requirement for this area of the city -- this is the way to get it and to make it a landmark.

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    So there we are. Conrail's land in Port Richmond, 200+ acres of potential, envisioned by Philadelphians who see it as more than an underused, post-industrial wasteland wedged between I-95 and vacant piers. A big Philly Skyline thanks to everyone who participatd.

    –B Love