Flooding delays debut of Manayunk park

KIM WOOD / FOR THE DAILY NEWS The construction site for the Venice Island Performing Arts Center, on Rector Street near the Manayunk Canal in Manayunk.
KIM WOOD / FOR THE DAILY NEWS The construction site for the Venice Island Performing Arts Center, on Rector Street near the Manayunk Canal in Manayunk.
Posted: May 19, 2014

LOCAL PERFORMERS will have to wait a few more months for the curtain to rise at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center & Recreation Park in Manayunk.

The completion of the venue, a project more than 10 years in the making, has been pushed back from June 5 due to a variety of factors, city officials have said. The biggest culprit? Torrential rains late last month that flooded the construction site on Venice Island, sandwiched between the Manayunk Canal and the Schuylkill.

Tom Dignam, the city Parks and Recreation Department's performing-arts coordinator, said no specific date has been set for the opening, but estimates it'll be sometime in the fall, possibly October.

"Unfortunately, as is the case with a lot of city projects, certain things pop up beyond your control," Dignam said. "This has been a collaborative process the whole way, and I'm really excited to see how everything comes together."

And for good reason: The venue has been a passion project of Dignam's since 2004, when it was first proposed by Parks and Rec.

"In the '90s, I kept telling the higher-ups that the department needed its own theater," he said. "I guess my idea just stuck in someone's head."

Before the Venice Island project was unveiled, any time the 18 theater troupes and 65 dance groups that the department works with wanted to put on a show, they had to rent a stage, sometimes even shelling out a fee to borrow space from the school district.

Dignam, himself a huge theater buff, realized that system wasn't efficient. So, when the city's Water Department announced plans to tear up the existing playground on Venice Island during the installation of a storm-water storage tank, Parks and Rec saw an opportunity and seized it.

The interceding decade has been a whirlwind of meetings, discussions and debates, according to Dignam, with several trips back to the drawing board as community groups in Manayunk made suggestions or proposals.

"One good thing is that because of the delays and the input from so many groups, so much has been added to make the center a better place," Dignam said.

Crews first put shovels to the dirt on Venice two years ago, he said, and have been working ever since on the venue's 250-seat theater - a "state-of-the-art" stage with advanced sound and lighting, according to Dignam. When finished, the site will also include a full-size basketball court, nature paths and a children's garden, Dignam said.

"This is the perfect site for something like this, and we've all been patiently waiting for the ribbon-cutting," said Kim Wood, the project's manager for Destination Schuylkill River, a branch of the Manayunk Development Corporation.

"Manayunk is a big hot spot for both the arts and outdoor recreation, so this project was a no-brainer," she said. "Now we just have to wait for the finishing touches to be made."

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