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City Council OKs Land Transfer For Long-Promised Park Over I-95 To Penn's Landing

Two Philadelphia City Council bills passed Thursday could represent the final administrative pieces needed to allow construction of the long-delayed park reconnecting Old City to the Delaware River waterfront.

A rendering of the park set to connect Old City to Penn's Landing by capping Interstate 95 between Walnut and Chestnut streets, updated in April 2022.

One of the bills creates a zoning designation for the cap over Interstate 95 and Christopher Columbus Boulevard on which the park will be built. The other conveys control of the city-owned land for the park to Delaware River Waterfront Corp., which will manage the park's construction, future maintenance and programming.

The latter bill also gives control over the stretch of road that will be covered to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for the construction of the cap itself.

The capping of I-95 with a park first became a concrete plan in 2017 when Mayor Jim Kenney pledged $90M from the city toward the $225M budget. But a combination of administrative holdups and the pandemic delayed the start for years, DRWC President Joseph Forkin told Bisnow.

In April, DRWC released updated renderings based on a public input process and set a start date for late this year. That gave Councilmember Mark Squilla, whose 1st District encompasses the project area, the signal to start the legislative process for granting the needed entitlements, he told Bisnow in a Friday interview. Construction on the cap is now estimated to begin in the first quarter of next year.

“Now the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, and unless something else comes up, this is it," Squilla said. "When we first spoke about this five years ago, I didn’t realize the zoning piece [was needed]. So something might still come up.”

A rendering of the mass timber building planned to serve as the center of the park capping I-95 at the Delaware River waterfront.

The first phase of construction is the erecting of the support structure for the cap over the two wide roadways, which have throttled pedestrian access to the Delaware River since I-95's construction in the middle of the 20th century. The land rights bill severs the key stretch of land under I-95 from the ground lease the Interstate Land Management Corp. holds for the rest of the highway and grants it to PennDOT, both for the construction and for long-term maintenance.

With legal entitlement in hand, PennDot can launch a bidding process to select a general contractor, Forkin said. Once the cap has progressed enough for work on the park to start, DRWC will search for its own GC. Pennoni and Hargreaves Associates have already led the design and planning of the park for DRWC.

To help cement the park's connection of the city to the waterfront, the city of Philadelphia and DRWC released a request for proposals for a private developer to build a massive mixed-use development on city land north of the park.

The Durst Organization from New York was selected over the Philadelphia 76ers, which wanted to build a new arena next to the park, in September of 2020. Durst has not officially signed any contracts for control of the land, Squilla said. The company declined to answer questions, but it praised the passage of the bill in a statement provided to Bisnow.