Mayor Nutter's appointment of Tom Corcoran to remake the city's waterfront is a solid choice for a crucial job.
For the past 25 years, Corcoran has worked just across the river in Camden, where he played a central role in transforming that distressed city's abandoned riverfront into a desired destination.
Corcoran founded the Coopers Ferry Development Association, helping to lure attractions such as the Adventure Aquarium, Campbell's Field, and a performing-arts center. In a city known more for corruption and street crime, his work in Camden has been nothing short of miraculous.
Now he will lead the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., the nonprofit agency that Nutter created to take over management of the riverfront from the former Penn's Landing Corp. The former agency was plagued by inconsistent planning and corruption scandals linked to private developers. Its legacy is a largely inaccessible, disjointed, concrete-laden riverfront that doesn't draw visitors and residents as well as it should.
Nutter pledges that the city's approach to remaking the waterfront will be through a master plan, rather than choosing a large developer to build a single large-scale project.
Nutter is putting the city on course to develop a world-class waterfront along the four-mile stretch near its heart. Now, he, Corcoran, and the DRWC board must build momentum with short-term successes on the waterfront, while preserving the long-range vision of an accessible, sustainable, thriving public space.
"It's going to need strong leadership," said Harris Steinberg, executive director of Penn Praxis, the agency that developed a comprehensive plan that would connect the waterfront to the city's street grid. "The fight against special interests and special projects is not over."
Corcoran praises the Penn Praxis plan as "a great foundation from which to take off." He said he wants to "set the table for future park development as well as private development," as long as it's consistent with the city's master plan.
One short-term improvement already begun is a plan to create a one-acre park at Pier 11, at the base of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. It will be completed by next summer. Corcoran said he also wants to raise money to fix up Penn Treaty Park, near Delaware Avenue and Beach Street.
Corcoran's experience in Camden also should bring a useful perspective to Philadelphia: The waterfront encompasses both states. Each side should be more open to opportunities to collaborate. "The more we look at the concept of 'one waterfront, two states,' the more opportunities we're going to find," Corcoran said.
A sensible and comprehensive remake of the waterfront has eluded the city for decades. With Corcoran's hiring, this new phase of planning is off to a better start.