Let’s agree that Penn’s Landing has a ton of room for improvement. Oh, don’t get us wrong, it has its strong points, like Winterfest and Spruce Street Harbor Park. The Seaport Museum is kind of fun, too. But when we think of Penn’s Landing, the Great Plaza is the first thing that comes to our mind. And we cannot think of another place in this town with a more misleading name. Aside from the view, there’s absolutely nothing great about the Great Plaza, but then again if they called it the “Concrete Plaza,” or the “Embarrassingly Lacking Shade Plaza,” tourist visits might suffer.

The City knows this, as does the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, and both have been working for years on a plan to reimagine this section of Penn’s Landing. Almost four years ago, we told you about a community meeting where preliminary plans were presented, hopeful that they would eventually come to fruition but realistic about the budget challenges they would entail. Last week though, at long last, we learned that the funding is now lined up and that Penn’s Landing will be getting a major shot in the arm in the coming years. Yes, soon something like this will be a reality.

Rendering, viewed from the river

According to a press release, the project will have four main components. First will be a cap over Columbus Blvd. and I-95 covering 4 acres between Walnut and Chestnut which will have a Dilworth Plaza vibe, with a spray pool that converts to an ice skating rink in the winter, a cafe, and other amenities. Second will be a replacement for the Great Plaza, a new green space that covers about 8 acres. Third will be an extension of the South Street pedestrian bridge so that it reaches the Penn’s Landing Marina. And finally, the Delaware River Trail will see a two-mile extension from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue. Considered together, these changes will be transformative for the Delaware Riverfront.

Check out these renderings, plucked from the DRWC website.

Rendering, looking toward the river
Penn's Landing Basin, looking west
View from Columbus Blvd.
Pedestrian bridge at South Street
Aerial rendering
Market Street entrance to Penn's Landing
Gardens at Front & Chestnut

The project will not come cheaply; it’s expected to cost about $225M. Funding will come from a variety of sources, including $110M from the Commonwealth, $90M from the City, and $15M from the William Penn Foundation. All of those parties will work with the DRWC to raise another $10M to complete the needed funding. Design and permitting should be finished in about two years, with construction expected to last three years. So at best, this project should be finished in half a decade.

There’s no argument that this project will be an amazing step in the right direction for our city and that it will greatly enliven an area that’s oozing with untapped potential. But ooh boy, that price tag. Our schools need money. There’s still a massive shortfall in the pension fund. Numerous City departments need a financial boost. Is this really the best use of taxpayer dollars? To be honest, we have no idea.

DRWC expects that this project will stimulate considerable economic growth in the area, including the creation of 100K sqft of retail, 500 hotel rooms, and 1,500 residential units. Some of those potential new buildings are shown in the renderings above. All told, estimates are that the project will generate $1.6B in new revenues for the City and Commonwealth. We don’t know whether this is a reasonable expectation or not, but if so it would certainly justify the expense. And frankly, even if its a push, economically speaking, we’re all about it.