Seven restaurants in LOVE Park?
That was the vision that Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke unfurled on Wednesday. He would pay for long-overdue upgrades to John F. Kennedy Plaza by leasing the rights to create 26,000 square feet of restaurant space in the iconic but aging park.
Drawings Clarke's office commissioned show seven restaurant spaces - both open-air and enclosed - along all four sides of the park, along with a new stage for concerts and public events on the Arch Street side. The drawings were prepared by the Philadelphia firm Daroff Design Inc.
The rights to develop the park either could be leased to the Chicago company that recently bid nearly $30 million for the garage beneath the park, or possibly to a second outfit, Clarke said.
To be sure, his vision of a seven-eatery park is a long way from reality. Clarke's plan clashes with one Mayor Nutter has been pursuing for months. The mayor wants to enlist the winning garage bidder to manage the park's face-lift, but have the city pay for the upgrades.
The administration has budgeted $16.5 million to pay for the work. The city would maintain control of the park design.
Clarke, who has been pushing the city for years to sell the garage, objects to spending public money on the park.
"We got a pretty good price for the purchase of the garage, but now we're putting revenue into the park that sits on top," the Council president said. "I'd really like to see us be in a position to maximize both the revenue side of this, but also create a much nicer environment at LOVE Park."
The park was created in 1965 during the reign of legendary city planner Edmund Bacon, who envisioned it as a civic gateway to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Amounting to a roof on a parking garage, it became one in a trio of forbidding and underused plazas around City Hall.
During the 1990s, skateboarders discovered that the problematic design was perfect for doing tricks, and LOVE Park became an international mecca for the sport. But the skateboarders caused conflicts with city workers and were banned.
In the late 1990s, Center City District leader Paul Levy offered to raise funds for a major redesign that would have added substantial greenery. He was rebuffed by Mayor John F. Street, who spent $1 million to install new benches and trash cans, and power-wash the granite surface.
The problems are below ground, too. The 820-space garage needs repairs, has no elevator, and is not handicapped-accessible.
Last month, Clarke blocked the introduction of a bill to approve the sale of the garage to InterPark Holdings, the Chicago company that bid $29.6 million.
The company not only would oversee the park upgrade, but would pay for improvements to the garage that could be worth another $10 million.
Clarke said the administration's bill to approve the sale to InterPark would be introduced in Council on Thursday. LOVE Park is in Clarke's district.
State and federal permission would be necessary to develop the park, Clarke said. The city also would have to maneuver around an ordinance - passed in 2011 with Clarke's support - that requires park land no longer used as public space to be replaced with comparable land nearby.
Finding substitute space for LOVE Park, which links City Hall to the Parkway, would be nearly impossible.
But Clarke noted that restaurants and cafés already operate on city park land, including Milk & Honey in Sister Cities Park on the Parkway.
Clarke said he had been in discussions with the Nutter administration on their competing ideas. The deal with InterPark has a 120-day window, meaning the sides have about three months to work out their differences.
"This is not an adversarial conversation," Clarke said. "We're working together on this."
Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, said the administration was pleased that the legislation would be introduced and noted that the InterPark offer was about $10 million more than the city had anticipated.
He said administration officials had expressed to Clarke "their desire to hear more about design issues within the park."
Under both Nutter's and Clarke's plans, the park's central fountain, the visitor center, and Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture would be maintained.
Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron contributed to this article.