News Column

Better late than never in Dilworth renovation

August 20, 2014

By Jenny Dehuff, Philadelphia Daily News



Aug. 20--OK, SO IT'S $5 million over budget and about five months late, but the completion of Dilworth Plaza on City Hall's western front is only a few weeks away, officials said yesterday.

Imagine bubbling urban fountains, vast green spaces, live music and an outdoor cafe that serves food by day and alcohol after 5 p.m. It's all coming to fruition in the form of Dilworth Park, the city's lively new centerpiece scheduled for a ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m.Sept. 4.

For more than two years, the once-drab, concrete underground maze known as Dilworth Plaza has been getting a face-lift, with fewer stairs and with elevators to ease foot traffic.

"When you do a project like this, you budget for contingencies: You look at as-built drawings and you hope you've covered all the unforeseen conditions, and we found significantly more than we initially encountered," said Center City District CEO Paul Levy, whose crew discovered unexpected foundations, steel pipes and duct bands in the ground.

Although about six weeks of harsh winter weather delayed paving and masonry, Levy said, the unveiling of a new makeover is now a couple of weeks away.

"I like to say that if you gave an architect the challenge to design a dangerous space, that's what they would have created -- this underground where you couldn't see around corners or have clear lines of sight," he said.

From top to bottom, the plaza and its transit hub underground have been renovated, offering new, well-lit, airy and open spaces, pedestrian-friendly walkways accessible from all directions of City Hall.

Attractions such as Picnic in the Park, Sips in the Park and Playtime in the Park will be put on for kids and adults both night and day, complete with a programmable, recycled-rainwater-fed fountain that transforms into an ice-skating rink in the winter.

A name change came with the announcement of the outdoor-cafe operator, Iron Chef Jose Garces. His Caribbean-style cafe, Rosa Blanca, will serve up eat-in or takeout meals from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bar will open up at 5 p.m., with extended hours on weekends.

As for a public-private partnership, Garces said, "We were in Lincoln Financial Field last year. We have our food truck at the Philadelphia Zoo and we've done a lot of off-premise catering. We feel confident we'll be able to deliver our product and do a really good job."

Officials say the surface of the park will be 85 percent to 90 percent complete on opening day. Center City District is renting the space from the city in the form of a 20-year lease with the option to renew. The name change, which requires a City Council vote, is expected to pass unanimously.

On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)


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