One major piece of the long-awaited development of Penn’s Landing is expected to fall into place this spring.
Liberty Point will be a massive, year-round, mainly seafood restaurant on three levels wrapping around most of the Independence Seaport Museum, at the foot of Walnut Street between Columbus Boulevard and the Delaware River. Almost every seat in the house, on four decks shaded by sail-like fabric, will provide a view of the Philadelphia waterfront as well as Camden’s across the river.
Liberty Point, owned by Avram Hornik and his FCM Hospitality, will accommodate 1,400 people over 25,000 square feet, with 150 employees, five bars, and seven private event spaces, making it the largest outdoor restaurant in Philadelphia. In the offseason and during foul weather, Liberty Point will seat about 75 people in the indoor dining room, whose clever setup of vintage mirrors behind the bar will allow patrons to see the river over their shoulders.
FCM, incidentally, also operates the second-largest outdoor restaurant in Philadelphia, the seasonal Morgan’s Pier (500 seats), a half-mile north of Liberty Point near the Ben Franklin Bridge. It also runs the nearby 450-seat Craft Hall and 300-seat Cherry Street Pier as well as Lola’s Garden in Ardmore (250 seats), Harper’s Garden in Center City (180 seats), Rosy’s Tacos in Center City (160 seats), and Juno in Poplar (120 seats).
Liberty Point and Morgan’s Pier are both waterfront dining experiences but will serve different constituencies, Hornik said. Liberty Point will be sit-down dining with live music for families and tourists, while Morgan’s Pier draws a younger adult crowd seeking a backyard barbecue or beer garden. Liberty Point also will host wedding parties. Hornik said a $500 package for up to 20 people would include the services of an officiant and a Champagne toast.
The project, about five years in the works and delayed a year by the pandemic, is part of a deal between FCM and the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. (the quasi-governmental agency that oversees Penn’s Landing on behalf of the city) and the museum, Hornik said during a recent tour, as workers assembled wooden decks and outfitted shipping containers that will house bars and kitchens. The exterior of the museum, built for the 1976 Bicentennial, will be festooned with live plants to offset the expanses of concrete.
The museum had tried at one point to create a beer garden. Hornik said he began talking with the DRWC after FCM catered an event on the USS Olympia, berthed nearby. Hornik said conversation turned to repurposing the outer areas of the museum. “We just want to make an existing space useful,” Hornik said.
The same can be said about the riverfront. Unlike many other East Coast cities, Philadelphia’s has been woefully underutilized.
From the mid-1960s, the area — once a series of warehouses and piers — was largely cut off from the rest of the city by the construction of I-95. The highway ran parallel to Delaware Avenue, the previous name of that stretch of Columbus Boulevard. (Before extensive reconstruction two decades ago, Delaware Avenue was a nightmarish ride. Driving its unmarked lanes involved dodging axle-jarring potholes, stray Belgian blocks, and twisted train rails with sharp edges that slashed tires.)
Some development in the 1970s included the restoration of the Olympia and the introduction of the Moshulu as a floating restaurant (after repairs from a 1989 fire, it was moved farther south to reopen in the mid-1990s).
But dreams to effectively bridge over I-95 and Columbus Boulevard and turn Penn’s Landing into a true public destination failed. In the early 2000s, mall developer Simon Property Group gave up on its idea to create a shopping-and-entertainment complex with a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and a tram to Camden.
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The DRWC then drafted the Master Plan for the Central Delaware and invested heavily in public plazas, bike trails, and other communal spaces meant to draw private development dollars to the area. In late 2020, the DRWC selected the Durst Organization of New York to handle development. The $2.2 billion plan, now underway, includes 12 new towers of homes, shops, and offices on either side of a park being planned over the highway, between Chestnut and Walnut Streets.
Even though the park that will cover the roads is years away, there is no real challenge to get to Liberty Point. Old City is literally at its doorstep by way of the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, which starts at Front Street and ends at the museum. “It’s funny, but no one ever thinks of walking over the Walnut Street bridge, but it is here,” Hornik said.
Hornik said coming up with the name was easy. “Philadelphia is the home of ‘Liberty’ and ‘Point’ being where the land meets the water,” Hornik said. “And then also when sailors came ashore, they got liberty. And then it’s a kind of celebration of liberty, like when you go out with your friends and family and you have fun.”