IN JUNE, Mayor Nutter promised to reform the Penn's Landing Corp. into an open and accountable waterfront manager within 30 days. He since had to confront a major economic shortfall, but we hope that he will soon be able to fulfill this promise.
The opportunity for real reform is even more critical now. With decisive action from Nutter, Philadelphians can continue to hold high hopes and expectations for the central Delaware riverfront.
Nutter's call to reform the corporation follows the advice of "An Action Plan for the Central Delaware: 2008-2018," developed by PennPraxis and the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and presented to the mayor in front of a packed auditorium (www.planphilly. com/actionplan).
Step 1 of the 10-point plan is to appoint an open, accountable, effective waterfront manager. The mayor must de-politicize the corporation by restructuring the board, decreasing the number of ex-officio members and political appointees, and adopting a lean and effective structure. This means reducing the number of seats (and mayoral appointments) from the 26 members to a more nimble seven or nine.
For 40 years, the corporation operated behind closed doors, with a record of corruption charges, indictments, and disappointing development schemes. Nutter must now send a signal that the corporation will act in the public's interest. Here's how he can:
Past is prologue. Since Penn's Landing Corp. was founded, appointees have served at the pleasure of the mayor, with no accountability to citizens at public meetings. Names of board members were not even required to be disclosed. Nutter's appointees should be citizens who see their role as stewards of both the river, our region's greatest natural asset, and of the civic vision developed by PennPraxis and more than 4,000 citizens in 2007 (www.planphilly. com/vision).
Put the "public" in public benefit. The board should be composed of residents, corporate citizens, civic leaders and experts in the areas relevant to successful riverfront implementation — law, architecture, planning, development, fundraising and public art. By avoiding political appointments, Nutter can make board members put their expertise to work to provide organizational vision and judicious oversight.
Think nationally to act locally. To tackle the development of the central Delaware, with its complicated mix of public and private, we need the best and brightest. Just as he did filling his own administration, Nutter should look to national-caliber talent (which we have locally) to guide the corporation to the next level. Reaching for our most talented citizens will send a strong message to private investors that our waterfront is open for business, and the days of backroom deal-making are over.
Beyond reproach. Lastly, the mayor can inspire confidence by ensuring that no appointment will be seen as patronage or political payback by avoiding campaign donors or those with business on the central Delaware for these important positions. In trying to reform this moribund public entity, perception is as important as reality to making Philadelphians believe in their riverfront again.
Keeping watch over the corporation will be the emerging civic voice on the riverfront, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group (action.centraldelaware advo cacy.org), which came out of the citizen-driven planning process. This group will hold the mayor accountable to his promise that the reformed corporation will adopt a strict code of ethics and ensure all meetings are public.
By reforming and restructuring Penn's Landing Corp. and its board, and fulfilling his promise of creating an apolitical, open and accountable governance structure, Nutter will set in motion riverfront revitalization, positioning Philadelphia as a city of choice for generations to come. *