Nutter, Clarke present a vision for LOVE Park

With Mayor Nutter in the wings, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke speaks at JFK Plaza on their shared vision to redevelop the space. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
With Mayor Nutter in the wings, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke speaks at JFK Plaza on their shared vision to redevelop the space. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 12, 2014

Mayor Nutter and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke have reached an agreement that would allow the rehabilitation of John F. Kennedy Plaza and the sale of the garage beneath LOVE Park to move ahead.

After a news conference Monday on the frigid and windswept Center City plaza, the two signed a document that outlines their "shared vision for LOVE Park."

That vision no longer contains the seven restaurants Clarke called for in December - a proposal he fired across the mayor's bow in response to plans to pay for the $15 million park redo with tax dollars.

Given other funding needs in the city, Clarke suggested raising the money by selling concession rights for the restaurants. Park advocates and critics were aghast, likening the concept to putting a food court in one of Philadelphia's most treasured spaces.

The compromise Nutter and Clarke worked out over months of talks has something for each. The question of restaurants and other features of the new park will be decided through a public design and planning process, while the mayor committed to finding as many alternative sources of funding as possible.

For starters, the city will apply for a $3 million state grant, and Liberty Property Trust, a real estate trust, has agreed to donate engineering services during the planning and design phase, the mayor said. The city also is open to further corporate and foundation support.

"The importance of this iconic park at the very heart and soul of the city cannot be overstated," Nutter said. "We want to maximize the opportunities for revenue generation while maintaining the integrity of the current public open space."

JFK Plaza and its central fountain are among Center City's premier attractions, despite an older design heavy on hard, terraced surfaces.

The plaza earned its nickname thanks to Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture, which Nutter ranked with the Liberty Bell and the Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as quintessential city symbols.

"How many thousands of brides and grooms have their portraits taken in front of that statue?" he asked.

The new park promises to be flatter, greener, and more accessible, while preserving the fountain, the LOVE sculpture, and the diagonal flow that aligns the plaza with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The fate of the Fairmount Park Welcome Center, the Googie-style spaceship building in the southwest corner of the plaza, is less certain.

The Nutter administration originally listed the welcome center as sacrosanct, but the agreement with Clarke says the building "may or may not be included in the final design."

An invigorated LOVE Park, along with the nearly remodeled Dilworth Plaza, would complete a transformation of the Parkway from City Hall to Boathouse Row that has been ongoing for much of Nutter's two terms.

With a lengthy design process to precede any construction, LOVE Park's overhaul is unlikely to be completed before Nutter leaves office in two years.

The finished product, though, is likely to have at least one restaurant. "I can't imagine this won't be a premier eating site," Nutter said. "We'll figure out how many and how big and how much and all that."

Any revenue generated probably would make little dent in the cost of construction. Funding for the rehab is to come from the proceeds of the garage sale, city capital funds, private funding, or a combination of those sources, according to the agreement.

Money from concessions could be rolled back into the park's maintenance, as the city does in other parks that have caf├ęs, bike rentals, and other amenities.

The debate over LOVE Park and how to pay for its face-lift began after the administration listed the aging municipal garage beneath the plaza for sale last summer.

Because the winning bidder would have to tear up the park to repair the garage, the remake of the park was wrapped into the deal.

The city initially committed to paying $15 million for the work, plus an additional $1.5 million to untangle the garage's utilities from the nearby Municipal Services Building's.

The eventual winning bidder - Chicago-based InterPark Holdings - offered nearly $30 million for the garage.

In November, Nutter sent two bills to Council to consummate the deal. Clarke, long a proponent of asset sales, objected to spending so much on LOVE Park and briefly withheld introduction of the legislation.

Both bills now are scheduled for a hearing Feb. 19.

Since Clarke became Council president two years ago, he and Nutter have clashed on a number of high-profile issues, including last summer's tug-of-war over how to provide more school funding.

By contrast, the LOVE Park announcement was something of a lovefest, with Nutter praising Clarke for his "fiscal vision."

Mike DiBerardinis, head of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, thanked Clarke and his staff for "challenging our ideas, actively negotiating and figuring out how to get us to the finish line."

Clarke, too, downplayed any conflict.

"This was not an adversarial relationship, although it might have appeared to be that way in some of the press accounts," he said. "I want to say how excited I am about having a well-balanced approach to redoing this park."


Remaking LOVE

Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell L. Clarke's agreement on LOVE Park calls for changes.

It does away with:

Clarke's seven-restaurant concept

Hard, terraced surfaces

Keeps:

Robert Indiana's iconic LOVE sculpture

The central fountain

JFK Plaza's diagonal orientation, aligning it with the Parkway

Adds:

Dedicated space for concessions

More green space

Flatter design, with access to the park on all four sides

Bigger and better "horticultural displays"

On the bubble:

The spaceship-like Fairmount Park Welcome Center

SOURCE: Nutter and Clarke's "Shared Vision for LOVE Park"


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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