Posted on Fri, Jun. 27, 2008
Nutter: No more secrets on the river after Penn's Landing plan
By CHRIS BRENNAN
Philadelphia Daily News
Mayor Nutter, embracing a new plan for the Delaware riverfront yesterday, promised more openness in how the publicly owned land is managed, better park space for the city to enjoy and further study of the two casinos planned to the north and south of Penn's Landing.
Nutter, speaking to about 500 people gathered at the Independence Seaport Museum to hear the Penn Praxis 10-year plan for the riverfront, promised to end the secrecy that has ruled the Penn's Landing Corp., a nonprofit set up by the city in 1970.
Nutter will appoint a new board within 30 days to the renamed "Delaware Waterfront Corp." that will hold meetings open to the public, publish annual reports and maintain an informative Web site.
A spokeswoman for the Penn's Landing Corp. said yesterday that the nonprofit has never put the names of its board members on its Web site. She declined to provide the names without permission from her boss.
The nonprofit has been hit with scandals in recent years. Mayor Street oversaw the end of a two-day secret meeting in 2005 when an option was granted to lease public land to a politically connected group of investors seeking a casino license. A close associate of Street's, attorney Leonard Ross, is now serving a 30-month federal prison term for using his role in evaluating unrelated development deals at Penn's Landing to extract campaign contributions for Street.
Nutter said yesterday that Penn's Landing has "been the target of big ideas that went nowhere" for a generation. Now the city will focus on ideas supported by residents for the area, starting with a new park at Pier 11, a decrepit structure just south of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. The city will also match an existing $250,000 grant to build a seven-mile bike and walking path along the riverfront.
To enjoy all that open space, Nutter envisioned 5,000 new homes along the riverfront. He called on the City Planning Commission to immediately come up with a master plan for the riverfront.
Nutter called on civic foundations to help fund the changes at Pier 11. He also called on developers to embrace the riverfront plan.
Taking the emphasis off just Penn's Landing, Nutter said he wanted the new Delaware Waterfront Corp. to focus on the riverfront from Oregon to Allegheny avenues.
"I know that we are going to fulfill this vision because we must," Nutter said. "We've let the years slide by with no vision and no plan."
Nutter spoke with less hope and more concern about the riverfront casinos - SugarHouse at Shackamaxon Street in Fishtown and Foxwoods at Reed Street in South Philly - saying they "simply do not fit" in the riverfront plan.
Nutter called on Penn Praxis to conduct an analysis and make recommendations in the next 30 to 60 days to answer what he called "the essential question: Can the casino plans at their proposed locations work or not?"
The Penn Praxis opinion is already pretty clear. Harris Steinberg of Penn Praxis, speaking before the mayor, drew applause when he said the casino designs don't match the riverfront plan.
"They're essentially large, windowless boxes," Steinberg said. "This is the antithesis of what the vision calls for."
Several attempts to force the casinos from their locations, including lawsuits filed by City Council and community groups, have been rejected by the state Supreme Court. Legislation recently introduced in Harrisburg would require the casinos to relocate to sites near the Philadelphia International Airport. SugarHouse and Foxwoods have rejected the notion of relocation, saying they have spent millions on plans for their sites, which were approved by the state Gaming Control Board. *