The agency in charge of building up central Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront is wagering that its groundwork of public plazas and bike paths will help it draw large-scale private development to Penn’s Landing, a feat that eluded past generations of planners.

A solicitation distributed Thursday by the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. seeks developers to build residential buildings with ground-floor shops and restaurants on two sites near the northern and southern tips of Penn’s Landing’s central strip between Market and South Streets.

The request calls for proposals involving high-rise dwellings and a possible hotel at the northern 7.4-acre development site bounded by Market and Chestnut Streets, currently occupied by an ice- and roller-skating rink, parking and a soon-to-be demolished tower built for an ill-fated sky-tram to Camden.

The 3.7-acre southern section, which consists mostly of a parking lot bounded by Spruce and Lombard Streets, is seen as accommodating low- or mid-rise residential buildings to mesh with the Society Hill neighborhood across Columbus Boulevard and Interstate 95, according to the solicitation.

The DRWC moved to market the parcels after community engagement efforts began this month for the 12-acre park over a section of I-95 between Chestnut and Walnut Streets that would link Penn’s Landing with Center City, said Joe Forkin, president of the government-affiliated nonprofit.

Conceptual design from 2014 shows where a proposed waterfront park would cap Interstate 95.
Hargreaves and Associates
Conceptual design from 2014 shows where a proposed waterfront park would cap Interstate 95.

Those engagement efforts, along with the release of a timeline for the multimillion-dollar project that anticipates work lasting from in 2021 to 2024, could give potential bidders for the Penn’s Landing sites confidence that the park will be completed, Forkin said.

“With the cap project moving forward into final design and having an actual construction schedule,” he said, “we thought now is the appropriate time to release this opportunity.”

Penn’s Landing sits near the geographic center of the the waterfront zone under the DRWC’s watch, which extends from Allegheny Avenue in Port Richmond to Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia.

The solicitation, which was issued on the DRWC’s behalf by global real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., marks the agency’s first attempt to see that area developed since the early 2000s. That’s when mall developer Simon Property Group abandoned plans there for a shopping-and-entertainment complex with a Cheesecake Factory restaurant and the Camden tram.

Since then, the agency has shifted its focus to developing inviting public spaces, calculating that private investment would follow.

Those projects included the rehabilitation of piers — including the Race Street Pier in Old City and the Pier 68 fishing promenade in Pennsport— into public plazas, as well as the installation of the vendor booths, hammocks and Adirondack chairs that make up Spruce Harbor Park.

The DRWC also has been making progress on a planned cycling and walking trail from Graffiti Pier in Port Richmond to Pier 68.

Forkin said those initiatives have helped encourage the development that’s accelerated over the last few years along the waterfront, citing such projects as the One Water Street building near Vine Street and developer National Realty Investment Advisors LLC’s plan for a complex of rowhouses and apartment buildings on part of the South Philadelphia tract where a Foxwoods casino was once planned.

The arch-shaped tower built for a never-realized tram proposal between the Philadelphia and New Jersey Delaware River waterfronts.
Jacob Adelman / Staff
The arch-shaped tower built for a never-realized tram proposal between the Philadelphia and New Jersey Delaware River waterfronts.

Its last major parcel to go out to bid for development, the Vine Street parking lot between Vine and Callowhill Streets, meanwhile, resulted in a deal with New York real estate giant Durst Organization.

The Penn’s Landing parcels now going out to bid are the last major development sites that the agency owns on the city’s behalf. The DRWC plans to offer them under leases ending in 2075 at the earliest, with the potential for two 50-year extensions.

Developers have a Feb. 7 deadline to submit their proposals. The DRWC will decide whether to have one team take on both sites, or have them developed separately, after reviewing bids.

Aside from parking, the southern development site accommodates a two-story building used by DRWC that must be demolished, according to the solicitation.

Work at the northern parcel would have to integrate the elevated road that connects Market and Chestnut Streets into its street grid. The northern site’s development would also displace the Blue Cross RiverRink and associated attractions, some of which are slated to be reproduced within the park over I-95.

Forkin said he expects coordination between the builders at the Penn’s Landing development parcels and the park’s planners.

“It’s an opportunity to think about how the two things integrate with one another,” he said.