Audio News Wrapper Report: Philadelphia Rail Park Plan Described at Urban Land Institute Panel Event

Michael Garden of the Philadelphia Rail Park project.Michael Garden of the Friends of the Rail Park prepares to introduce a panel discussion at the ULI program March 18 at the Union League in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA, PA— (SBN)—In the Monopoly board game, drawing the Chance card instructing you to “Take a ride on the Reading” meant an opportunity for the player to acquire a valuable property.

The Reading Railroad is long gone, but its impact on Philadelphia’s urban landscape remains. At the Union League Club March 18, the Philadelphia commercial real estate community turned out by the hundreds to learn more about plans to convert the railroad’s winding viaducts, below-grade passages, and even tunnels into urban park land like the acclaimed High Line in lower Manhattan.

The briefing was organized by the Philadelphia district of the Urban Land Institute.

Michael Garden of the Philadelphia Rail Park project.

Michael Garden of the Philadelphia Rail Park project.

The railroad’s abandoned above-ground viaduct, extending north and west from the Reading Terminal attached to the city’s Convention Center, will be the foundation for the redevelopment project, according to Michael Garden, a broker with CITYSPACE.

Garden, who previously worked as an art and antique dealer in New York before helping to develop art galleries and sculpture gardens in Manhattan, is leading the efforts of Friends of the Rail Park, the community advocacy group spearheading the project.

The first phase of the Rail Park will be the redevelopment of a segment of the rail viaduct from North Broad Street at Noble Street, and extending south toward Callowhill Street, Garden told SBN exclusively in an interview after the Union League program. The group is hoping to receive a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, or RACP, grant from Pennsylvania this spring.

“We have over half of the $8 million we need to bid it out and break ground,” says Garden. “The next critical step is a $3.5 million RACP grant. If we can get that additional grant, with a little more support, we’ll be breaking ground next year.”

Keynoting the program was Patrick Cullina, award-winning landscape designer who served as founding vice president of Horticulture and Park Operations for New York City’s High Line, and whose work includes Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway, Bethlehem Steel site, and Hudson Yards, Manhattan West and Battery Park City in New York.

Cullina says because of the Reading viaduct’s wider right-of-way, the number of neighborhoods and diverse geography it traverses, there are significant opportunities for a richer cultural and park-like experience for Philadelphia.

“The High Line in New York is largely a steel bridge that runs a mile and three quarters from the West village to the Javits Center,” Cullina tells SBN. “Here in Philadelphia you have a combination of the viaduct, a much wider structure, you have “The Cut,” the lower open air rail section that runs parallel to Callowhill, and then the tunnel passage that moves toward Fairmount Park. That offers an opportunity for a series of programs. You have a wider space which can help to accommodate things that we couldn’t do in New York, like bicycles and dogs, and really help to connect those neighborhoods.”

Landscape architects will have a key role in the redevelopment, says Gerald “Jay” DeFelicis Jr., a project manager with Maser Consulting who attended the ULI session.

“The advantage of these older rail lines is that they cut through all parts of the city,” says DeFelicis. “Landscape architects bring an element of the aesthetics, bringing back nature into the city. A lot of older cities like this have concrete corridors, these  are opportunities to have planted corridors that people can use as park space.”

You can hear more comments from Cullina, Garden, and DeFelicis in the audio news report below.