Philadelphia officials unveiled designs Wednesday for a new welcome center at FDR Park, complete with an open-air courtyard, offices, event space, and an adjoining “world class” playground — all part of a raft of upgrades eventually planned for the heavily used South Philadelphia park.
The event space would be open for public and private functions, such as weddings, birthdays, and baby showers.
The designs were initiated under a master plan developed by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the nonprofit Fairmount Park Conservancy, and Friends of FDR Park. The welcome center and playground are part of the first phase of a new master plan and will cost about $14.5 million, with the city contributing $11 million, the state $3.25 million, and the conservancy $275,000.
“Safe, high quality places to play are the foundation of strong and healthy communities,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “The hard work being done today will deliver a modern, safe, and welcoming FDR Park for future generations of Philadelphians to enjoy.”
The city unveiled a master plan in 2019 that sought to address multiple issues, including the park’s design, lack of services for visitors, aging infrastructure, and lack of public funding. Overall, the city has committed $50 million over the next five years. The entire master plan calls for $250 million in improvements.
Allison Schapker, chief projects officer at the Fairmount Park Conservancy, said officials wanted to start the park’s transformation by creating a warm atmosphere to welcome users. The event space will generate revenue to help with park upkeep and programming.
Schapker said the welcome center comprises three separate spaces that consist of:
Transforming an existing 5,500-square-foot guardhouse at Broad Street and Pattison Avenue into a staffed visitor information area, and a coworking space for 30 park staff and community partners. Visitors will be able to sign up for events and check out equipment, such as tennis rackets for use on the park’s courts, and binoculars for birding, for example.
An adjoining open-air courtyard to serve as a community gathering space.
Using the existing horse stable area to create a 6,700-square-foot event space and 4,000-square-foot café, both overlooking Pattison Lagoon.
Philly-based WRT led the design with Boxwood Architects as a partner.
“We really want to make this the place where people start their experience … at FDR,” Schapker said. “We know this site can be a resource for the community and the neighborhood.”
Kathryn Ott Lovell, commissioner of Parks & Rec, called the park “one of the most diverse and dynamic green spaces in our city.”
“The master plan is a true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness the passion residents have for this park and build a sustainable and vibrant future for FDR Park,” Ott Lovell said. “The Welcome Center and Play Area will offer high quality park amenities that encourage visitors to extend their stay and come back more often to enjoy all that FDR has to offer.”
The play area, to be next to the welcome center, is being designed by WRT and Meghan Talorowski, of Studio Ludo, as the “play expert.” The area is designed to encourage “nature play for all ages and abilities” and will incorporate elements suggested by the community through workshops held over the summer.
It will include: a “mega-swing set” with 30 swings overlooking the Pattison Lagoon; nature-based play equipment including spinners, log and boulder scrambles, and tree houses; rolling hills with slides; barrier-free adventure paths; a picnic area with pavilions; shaded seat walls; and pollinator-friendly landscaping.
Design of the Children’s Play Area was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which was matched by a $250,000 contribution from the Fairmount Park Conservancy.
Officials said the two projects will go out for bid in spring. The play area is expected to be complete by summer 2023 and the welcome center by fall 2023.
The park was designed in 1913 by the Olmsted Brothers, sons of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, for the neighborhood once known as “The Neck,” which spanned from Oregon Avenue to what is now the Navy Yard. The park would later go on to earn the nickname “The Lakes” and become a popular swimming spot for Philadelphians.
Officials said the public can provide ideas for future programming for both the welcome center and play space at myphillypark.org/fdr-park.
This story was corrected to note that captions in the renderings should be attributed to Fairmount Park Conservancy.