Pier 11, a finger of vacant land just south of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, is getting an extreme makeover, thanks to a million-dollar grant from the William Penn Foundation.

By next year, the pier will reemerge as a park, becoming the first tangible example of how the city wants the waterfront to develop.

"This brings us one step closer to our shared vision for a great waterfront," Mayor Nutter said at a news conference yesterday at Pier 11.

The grant is part of a $3 million effort to move ahead with designing how to open access for seven miles of Delaware River waterfront from South Philadelphia to Port Richmond.

Andrew Altman, Philadelphia's commerce director, said that in addition to the grant, the city would contribute $1 million from its capital budget and seek another $1 million in federal stimulus funds to produce a waterfront master plan.

The plan would guide development, building on a vision of the waterfront outlined last year by PennPraxis, an urban-design team at the University of Pennsylvania. Drawing on community input, PennPraxis' "Action Plan for the Central Delaware" would extend the city grid of streets to the river's edge and open access for the public through parks and trails.

Nutter endorses the idea and defended city spending on planning even as his administration proposes closing libraries and pools.

"This is about the future of the city," Nutter said. "This is a future investment in the entire city of Philadelphia."

Altman said the city's contribution to funding a master plan would come not from its operating budget, but from capital funds held by the former Penn's Landing Corp., which has been reorganized as the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.

"You can't wait for the economy to turn around and then start planning," added City Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose district includes the central Delaware waterfront.

The city is moving ahead with plans for a recreational trail, which is to break ground in April. The first two phases of the trail are to be completed by July and run continuously from Penn's Landing near Columbus Boulevard and Market Street to Pier 70 in South Philadelphia.

The trail, which will cost $500,000, is being developed by the city, the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., and the Center City District, a privately funded special-services organization.

In another move to advance the PennPraxis ideas for the area along the Delaware, DiCicco said he planned to introduce a bill Thursday in City Council for an interim master plan for the waterfront.

That way, DiCicco said, developers could not rush in with project proposals that were inconsistent with the new master plan.

DiCicco said development on the waterfront currently was handled on a project-by-project basis, giving enormous power to politicians like him who have to sign off on plans.

But he said decisions too often were made in a planning vacuum and led to haphazard growth.

DiCicco said that by supporting a new master plan for the central Delaware, "I'm removing myself from a lot of the political decisions that have to be made, and the power that comes with the job. But it's for the betterment of the central Delaware waterfront."

Craig Shelter, a former city planning official who represents the interests of several major developers, said now that the city was putting together an actual master plan, it would have to address the concerns of property owners.

Of the seven-mile stretch of the central Delaware, the city owns about 2.2 miles of waterfront.

"They have to deal now with a lot of private-property issues that were not sufficiently dealt with in the original PennPraxis plan," Shelter said.

Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or jlin@phillynews.com.