After years of peering at Penn's Landing from a telescope in his sixth-floor Camden apartment, Tom Corcoran now has a chance to remake Philadelphia's waterfront in his own vision.
Mayor Nutter yesterday named Corcoran the new president of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., assigning the job to a man who spent the last 25 years leading the remake of Camden's abandoned waterfront.
"There's no reason in the world that Philadelphia should not have one of the greatest waterfronts, not just in America, but anywhere in the world," Nutter said at a news conference on Columbus Boulevard, near Pier 11 on Race Street.
After sorting through 100 applicants nationwide, the mayor said, "by sheer coincidence, we found the person who was selected right across the Delaware River."
As founder and president of the Cooper's Ferry Development Association, Corcoran helped lure $550 million in investments to Camden's waterfront. He spearheaded projects such as the Susquehanna Bank Center, Adventure Aquarium, the RiverLink, and Campbell's Field. Those and other attractions lure two million visitors a year to one of the nation's poorest cities.
Corcoran also successfully transformed the nonprofit association into a quasi-government agency that handles significant redevelopment projects for Camden. The association was once solely devoted to the waterfront, but it has now moved to other parts of the city, such as the North Camden and Cramer Hill neighborhoods.
"I tell you, if anybody can get a job done, Tom Corcoran is the man," said Camden Mayor Gwendolyn Faison, who has known Corcoran since 1983, when both began serving on the board of the Cooper's Ferry Development Association. "He seems to zero in on the problems and come up with solutions. I'd like to consider him one of my best economic development friends."
Corcoran, who in the 1980s worked as Camden's business administrator, a position similar to that of Philadelphia's managing director, also is no political neophyte.
"He's the one who brought together the business leaders and was able to steer through difficult political waters" to revitalize Camden's waterfront, Camden County Freeholder Jeffrey Nash said.
Not every initiative has been successful, he admitted. "But if you closed your eyes and envisioned when Tom took over in the 1980s and what the waterfront is today, you would be amazed," Nash said.
Corcoran was selected by the 15-member board of the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., created by Nutter last January as a successor to the Penn's Landing Corp. In recent years, Penn's Landing Corp. was plagued by development failures and corruption scandals that left it unable to launch an effective waterfront revitalization.
"There have been fits and starts [and the hope] that some one magical developer will come along and save us from ourselves," Nutter said of past waterfront development efforts. By contrast, his goal is to initiate a master plan for a seven-mile stretch of riverfront between Allegheny and Oregon Avenues, in which a myriad of projects will come about slowly, not in one fell swoop.
Corcoran, who will be paid $195,000 a year, said he took the job because of Nutter's vision for the waterfront and the board members of the corporation that is managing it.
"Mayor Nutter has made it clear from the beginning of his administration that developing a world-class waterfront is key to his vision of Philadelphia's future."
Corcoran, who lives at the Victor on Camden's waterfront, will begin his job Oct. 1. Since he's not a city employee, Corcoran is not required to move into the city.