It’s a tale as old as time. It’s a hot summer day in Philadelphia and getting to the Shore is either too costly or time-consuming, but the kids need to get out of the house. Maybe teens need something to do that doesn’t break the bank.
City officials hope the return of its nearly decade-old “seasonal park” on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway can offer an affordable alternative to families on the hunt for some summer fun. And this time, the park promises to be bigger and better than before the pandemic put a pause on summer programming.
Called the Oval XP, the Eakins Oval summer park opens Wednesday and it offers a little bit of everything for locals and tourists. There’s a soundstage where people can enjoy free live music, backyard games such as corn hole, a space for local minority-owned, pop-up retailers, the city’s largest outdoor beer garden, and a section for tiny tots to play outdoors.
A centrally located lot bears a colorful mural of blues, yellows, and pink that people can walk or even skate on, said lead artist Carlos “CALO” Rosa. But the most visible attraction is a giant Ferris wheel that overlooks the city. Officials say it’s the largest mobile Ferris wheel in the world.
“The idea kind of started in creating a festival-like experience that didn’t just last a weekend and didn’t cost you an arm and a leg,” said Will Horrocks of Our People Entertainment, a Philly-based agency that curates experiences.
Parks and Recreation partnered with Our People Entertainment and Welcome America, which produces the city’s July Fourth festival, to make the Oval XP a reality. The park will be open Wednesday through Sunday until Aug. 21.
“Visitors to the Parkway are able to have such a varied experience,” said Mayor Jim Kenney during a press preview Monday. “From museums, to music, and free family-friendly fun along with their picture with Rocky.”
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell added that using the space as a park, with activities such as free mini-golf for children, is just a smarter use of space that used to be a surface parking lot.
Since the parks department began using the lot and surrounding eight acres of green space, it has attracted more than 700,000 visitors to its programming.
The space compliments a route of activities that begins at Independence Mall on Sixth and Market Streets, goes through Dilworth Park and LOVE Park, and ends at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Still, Ott Lovell acknowledged that residents continue to live with the growing toll of gun violence and limited recreational activities, such as swimming or going to the public library, due to budget restraints.
“We still have to have joy and we still have to make memories, and it’s hard when you know everything else that’s happening in our city,” said Ott Lovell. “Kids are growing up in this and families need an outlet, and hopefully that’s the Oval this summer or any park or recreation center.”