Gleaming silver shovels were thrust into a photogenic pile of dirt, and men with weed-eaters trimmed the brush Monday at the groundbreaking of the $10.3 million Viaduct Rail Park north of Center City.
"It takes nine months to make a baby, but it takes sometimes nine years to make a project," Mayor Kenney said at the ceremony at 13th and Noble Streets.
Kenney was joined by Gov. Wolf, State Rep. Michael O'Brien (D., Phila.), Councilman Mark Squilla, Center City District president Paul Levy, and Sarah McEneaney, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Rail Park, to start the conversion of the former Reading Co. railroad viaduct into a 25,000-square-foot linear park.
Think green space, lighting, walking paths, and swinging benches. The state recently chipped in $3.5 million, which enabled the long-awaited plan to move forward.
"The release last month of the Redevelopment Assistance Capital grant is the trigger event that brought us to this point today," Levy said. "We are literally going to kick off construction and be underway before the end of this calendar year."
Wolf compared the future park to the popular High Line in New York City, and said it would likely spur new development in Philadelphia.
"Economic development has sprouted up all along the High Line, and it started with a lot less than we start with here," Wolf said. "This is beautiful now. It's going to be amazing when it's finished."
The project's first phase - which includes improvements to the 1300 block of Noble Street and the viaduct bridges up to Callowhill Street - is expected to be completed in early 2018. Levy said the Center City District Foundation was seeking to fill an $800,000 gap at fundtherailpark.org.
"For how many years it's been here, to see it transformed virtually overnight will be an amazing thing," said Ken Holiday, who attended the groundbreaking with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Hannah, who turns 1 on Tuesday. "We've been telling her it's part of her birthday present."
Jerry Silverman, a Queen Village resident who snapped photos and chatted up Wolf after the groundbreaking, called the viaduct a golden opportunity to bring a High Line-style park to Philadelphia.
"When they opened that, all I kept thinking was, 'Why the hell aren't we doing that with this?' " Silverman said. "It's a cool idea."