This Thanksgiving, Philadelphia's civic heart is going to beat a little louder as Christmas Village reopens in LOVE Park, a sure sign that the beloved park at 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard is coming back to life.
The German-style outdoor market was housed in the City Hall courtyard last year as the park was undergoing construction. The roughly $20 million project has been beset by delays as the parking garage underneath proved more damaged than initially thought. City officials don't want to be pinned down to an opening date, which is understandable, but say there will be inescapably obvious hints over the next few months. Plants, benches, and maybe even food trucks will return after the thaw.
Work has already begun on the old Welcome Center, affectionately known as the spaceship due to its saucer-like shape. It will be used as a café or wine bar and should be a little of both. Early next year, the Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture will return. And, in the warmer weather, there will be a grand opening celebration.
LOVE Park's new design was a truly civic endeavor. Over 1,000 people attended public meetings to give designers their wish lists for the gateway to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and its extraordinary museums. Instead of the forbidding granite slabs around a fountain, the park will be filled with small lawns, trees, and flowers. It will have benches for lunchtime visitors and paths for walkers moving from City Hall to the West Market office district.
The city's Department of Parks and Recreation has even figured out how to recycle those cold granite slabs. They've cut them into 250 3-inch by 3-inch bricks and engraved an image of the LOVE sculpture on them. Starting Black Friday, the LOVE bricks will be for sale at $50 each. Proceeds will benefit the maintenance of skate parks, an especially fitting use of funds considering that skateboarders turned LOVE Park into an international legend. Money will also be used to cover the costs of maintenance and programming at LOVE Park in a partnership with the Fairmount Park Conservancy. Other old slabs will be used in future skate parks around the city.
LOVE Park, officially called John F. Kennedy Plaza, will complement the Center City District's successful reimaging of Dilworth Plaza into Dilworth Park on the west side of City Hall. The skating rink is up and shops featuring products made in Philadelphia already are open.
Both parks had been hangouts for the homeless and this winter, the city and Project HOME are opening a daytime center for them in the Concourse under the Municipal Services Building, where they can warm up, have a meal, take a shower, and get some help.
This reconstruction of Philadelphia's government hub is a tribute to the civic community and offers hope that the dreary Thomas Paine Plaza outside the Municipal Services Building just across JFK from City Hall can be fixed.