PHILADELPHIA In the early days of Philadelphia, the riverfront near Penn Treaty Park was known for its sandy white beaches.
In the early 18th century, it became a hub for shipbuilding. Much later, in 1920, the Philadelphia Electric Co. built a coal-fired power station on that stretch of the Delaware River.
Today, Beach Street in Fishtown looks like a sad monument to the city's lost industrial past.
The old power station is gutted and defaced with graffiti, surrounded by acres of empty land used for storing construction equipment.
After years of wrestling over ways to revitalize the area, city planners are hearing fresh suggestions - from Wynn Resorts.
The Las Vegas casino operator's group is one of six vying for the city's second casino license. A decision on the license is still many months away and rests with state gaming commissioners, not city officials.
But Wynn Resorts is talking informally to city planners and neighbors about what the company would do to spur additional development if it emerged the winner.
Wynn Philadelphia has a vested interest in the future of the neighborhood: Beach Street would be at its front door.
Alan Greenberger, the city's deputy mayor of economic development, said it would be "odd" to have Wynn's $925 million investment surrounded by urban wasteland.
"It makes us wonder what's the attraction of being in this place, if you're surrounded by highways and undeveloped waterfront," he said in an interview.
Wynn Resorts has an option to buy 60 waterfront acres where North Beach Street bends into Richmond Street. The site is also next to the new I-95 interchange for Girard Avenue.
To improve Beach Street, the company would invest in the streetscape, including lights, road improvements, landscaping, and sidewalks, said Terry McKenna, a principal of Keating Consulting, developer of the Wynn project.
"We recognize the street is a mess," McKenna said. The investment would be "north of $5 million, inching closer to $10 million," he said.
In addition, Wynn Resorts has decided to change the orientation of 18 acres of open space from the northern to the southern side of its site, McKenna said.
"That will spur further development on Beach Street," he said.
The city's current master plan for the central Delaware River waterfront calls for light industry on this stretch of Beach Street.
McKenna said that if the Wynn project were awarded a license, the area would be better suited for a mix of residential, retail, and office space.
But he said the company was not interested in acquiring additional land or spearheading ancillary development.
"It's not our focus," McKenna said.
He added that the Wynn project and PennDot's improvements to the Girard Avenue interchange would amount to almost $2 billion in new investment for the area.
"That's unheard of," he said.
At a September hearing before the state's Gaming Control Board, Greenberger raised concerns about having a second casino just a mile from the SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown and Northern Liberties.
But he testified that if the Wynn proposal were "augmented" with ideas for improving the area in between, "a powerful transformation could take place on our waterfront."
Otherwise, Beach Street would have two significant developments "without anything in between," he said.
The biggest hurdle in the way of development on Beach Street is the hulking former Peco power station, now owned by Exelon Corp.
Exelon still operates four combustion turbines on Beach Street, but the old, five-story Delaware Station is empty. Designed by John T. Windrim, the noted commercial architect whose firm also designed the Franklin Institute, it was built during an era when even utilitarian structures conveyed the same civic pride as museums.
Robert Judge Sr., a spokesman for Exelon, said the company had no plans to redevelop the station. But he added that Exelon "periodically evaluates alternatives to redevelopment or reuse of all its sites."
There is precedent for finding new uses for power stations. In 2003, Preferred Real Estate Inc. finished a $65 million conversion into office space of the Chester station of the Delaware County Electric Company.
McKenna toured Exelon's Delaware Station several weeks ago. All the giant turbines have been removed. "It's massive inside," he said.
He said Keating Consulting had contacted "a handful of major developers" in the United States and abroad to test the waters of potential interest in the area.
"People are coming back and saying, yes, it has all the makings of significant development," McKenna said. But without the Wynn project, he added, "I don't see anything happening on Beach Street anytime soon."