By Larry Eichel
Inquirer Senior Writer
MICHAEL BRYANT / Inquirer Staff Photographer
On a clear day, Michael Nutter can see New Jersey. The Democratic mayoral candidate joined Bob Borski of the Delaware River City Corp. near the Frankford Arsenal boat launch in Tacony. Nutter toured the largely underused Northeast Philadelphia riverfront, which the group wants to develop.
Michael Nutter spent yesterday morning visiting a place he’d never been before – the Northeast Philadelphia riverfront.
Showing him around were the principals of the Delaware River City Corp., a nonprofit group dedicated to revitalizing what has been a little-utilized and largely ignored chunk of the city.
The Democratic mayoral nominee came away from his tour impressed with the riverfront’s eclectic mix of industrial sites, unexpected greenery and possibilities.
“I’m tremendously excited about this,” Nutter said, noting that the city’s land holdings along the Delaware give it the power to shape what comes next. “This is a whole new opportunity for Philadelphia.”
Very little of what the corporation wants to see happen along the North Delaware has happened. Most of the projects are the planning or talking stages, with federal and local funding in place for some of them.
The DRCC’s mission has several elements:
To reconnect the riverfront with Northeast Philadelphia, most of which sits on the opposite side of the barrier that is Interstate 95.
To reclaim, improve and preserve green spaces along the river.
To enliven the area, parts of which feel all but abandoned, with residential developments that don’t block public access to the water and don’t displace existing businesses.
“In the next two years, there’s going to be a huge transformation,” said Sarah Thorp, executive director of DRCC, chaired by former U.S. Rep. Bob Borski.
The central thread connecting the group’s plans is an 11-mile bike and walking path that would extend from Bridesburg north to Torresdale.
By the end of next year, the corporation hopes to have lengthened an existing section of the path in Pennypack Park and to have created Lardner’s Point Park on 4.5 acres near the foot of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge.
A lot has to happen, though, for the path to materialize in full. For one thing, Delaware Avenue, which now stops dead at Levick Street in Bridesburg, will have to be extended several miles upriver through an industrial area; the path there would run along the avenue.
The Delaware Avenue extension, for which some federal and city funding has been set aside, also is essential in terms of making some of the proposed residential developments feasible.
Four large tracts have been talked about for housing; no start dates have been set for any of the projects. In Bridesburg, Westrum Development Corp. hopes to build as many as 2,000 homes and condos on the site of the former Philadelphia Coke industrial plant.
No one knows how quickly any of this will happen. Much depends on federal funding, local funding – the total cost of what DRCC wants to do is $150 million – and the vagaries of the housing market.
But Borski, who wanted to line up Nutter as an ally, is confident about the riverfront’s future.
“The views are breathtaking, the opportunities are tremendous, the area is so underutilized,” Borski said. “Most people in Northeast Philadelphia don’t even know these things exist.”
At least now, Nutter knows.