Up next for waterfront: A winter wonderland

Posted: August 25, 2014

COME SEPT. 1, there's going to plenty of foot-stomping, hand-wringing and pouting in the city.

No, the outbursts won't be coming from dejected kids who are headed back to school.

The adults will be the ones pitching a fit - because the curtains are scheduled to fall that day on the Spruce Street Harbor Park.

(It's OK. We feel your pain. Go ahead, kick something.)

The wildly popular, partially floating park at the Penn's Landing Marina has drawn about 35,000 visitors a week since opening on July 21, said Emma Fried-Cassorla, spokeswoman for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., the nonprofit behind the newfound destination spot.

"We were not thinking that it was going to be as popular as it was," she said. "We're very happy with how it resonated."

The harbor park - which boasts a boardwalk, misting areas, hammocks, floating barges and a restaurant - was recently singled out by the Huffington Post as one of the best urban beaches in the world.

But take heart, dear reader: The harbor park will return next summer, and the waterfront group is now focused on dreaming up new ways to woo people back to the waterfront during the winter months.

The annual Waterfront Winterfest, which is centered around the Blue Cross RiverRink on Columbus Boulevard near Chestnut Street, will likely feature some upgrades from last year's attractions.

"The Spruce Street Harbor Park set the bar really high," Fried-Cassorla said. "Hopefully we can come up with something that is really amazing, and continue to draw people to the waterfront."

Fried-Cassorla said the waterfront group is riffing on variations of a ski lodge theme, the type of a warm, cozy environment that would make the area feel inviting, even on dark, frigid nights.

Like the harbor park, Winterfest - which runs from Nov. 28 to March 1 - will include plenty of free activities, and spots for people to get something to eat and drink.

After years of fits and starts, momentum and interest is finally starting to build around Philadelphia's long-neglected waterfront, thanks to the civic master plan that calls for a mix of private and public developments to sprout along the Delaware River.

The sleek Race Street Pier gave way to the earthy, recently renovated Washington Avenue Pier park. A fishing and picnic area is slated to open next summer on Pier 68, behind a South Philly Walmart.

Winterfest aims to keep the conversation about the waterfront going, to get more people involved and - as impossible as this would have sounded 10 or 15 years ago - excited.

"It really is exciting," Fried-Cassorla said. "Spruce Street Harbor Park brought a lot of people here who had never been down to the waterfront before. It brings together an incredibly diverse group of people."

On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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