Nearly four decades after Penn's Landing Corp. was created to develop Philadelphia's Delaware River waterfront, the state-chartered agency will meet today to put itself out of business and welcome a successor that is intended to have more power but also more public oversight.
Mayor Nutter is scheduled to appear at today's final board meeting to convene the new agency, to be called the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., and to name its 15 members. He also is expected to announce plans for a public park on the pier at the foot of Race Street.
Doing away with the tainted and often ineffectual Penn's Landing Corp. was the top recommendation in a June report prepared for the mayor by PennPraxis, the city's nonprofit waterfront consultant. The only way for the city to overcome its legacy of failure at the waterfront, PennPraxis argued, was to start over with a new management agency run by professionals rather than politicians.
In an interview yesterday, Nutter said he was determined to succeed where five previous mayors failed.
"One of the greatest deficiencies of this city is that we have not been able to develop the waterfront," Nutter said. "I want this new board to embark on great developments" similar to those in New York City, Boston and Washington.
In some respects, the new entity will resemble Penn's Landing Corp. It will assume all its predecessor's assets and responsibilities, including the programming of outdoor events. But instead of concentrating all its attention on the 13-acre Penn's Landing parcel and a few nearby sites, the board will be responsible for planning along a seven-mile stretch of riverfront between Allegheny and Oregon Avenues.
Because Penn's Landing Corp. was known for its ineffectiveness, Nutter is reducing the number of appointees from 20 to 15. He was adamant yesterday that no elected officials would sit on the new board, although he declined to release the members' names in advance.
City Commerce Director Andrew Altman confirmed that he would chair the board. He also acknowledged that the new dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design, Marilyn Jordan Taylor, would serve. She is a nationally known planner who previously headed the architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill and chaired the Urban Land Institute.
Altman said one of the new board's first acts would be to incorporate Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law into its bylaws, which means meetings and minutes will be available to the public. Because of the way Penn's Landing Corp. was chartered in 1970, it was not obliged to divulge its membership and kept board activities closely guarded secrets.
The new board will aggressively pursue financing for public amenities, Altman said. Although private development on the river has thudded to a halt, money from the federal stimulus bill could make it easier to implement improvements in public infrastructure.
"We're going to put money into piers, public spaces, connecting trails, so when the market picks up, we've created an incentive for private investment," he said.
Creation of the board is the first of a series of changes advocated by PennPraxis, which spent much of 2007 engaging the public in a discussion about the best ways to develop the Delaware waterfront's former industrial lands. The group's director, Harris Steinberg, hailed the revamped board as "a big win for the city."
As with previous efforts to remake the waterfront, assembling a new board proved more time-consuming than the Nutter administration had expected. The mayor first announced that he would dissolve Penn's Landing Corp. in June, saying he would have a new board in place by the end of July. He blamed the city's financial crisis for the delay.
The board's creation is the culmination of a seven-year saga that began in 2002, when Simon Property Group abandoned plans for a shopping mall at Penn's Landing.
For years, Philadelphia mayors resisted the idea of a formal master plan for the waterfront, preferring to negotiate directly with developers. That view softened after the state decided to locate two casinos on the riverfront and developers flocked to the area with proposals for nearly two dozen skyscrapers.
Because of the collapse of the real estate market, the new waterfront corporation will be able to start planning in a less pressured environment.
"You almost get to have a second start," Nutter said. "A new name. A new group. A new year."