Moves to create a Parisian-style promenade along the old Reading Viaduct recently gained a financial boost with a new state grant and planners are getting excited about the future look of the area.
“It’s going to change everything,” said Jeff Barg, associate director of planning at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. “It’s a place that will really highlight the ecology of the neighborhood and the way the ecology shapes the neighborhood.”
The state recently added a$3.5 million grant to $5 million allotted for the project from the Center City District and private donors. The grant allows the Friends of the Rail Park organization to begin the first phase of transforming the Reading Viaduct.
When completed, the park will be similar to the High Line in New York, but even more similar to a rail park in Paris.
“The High Line is an easy reference for it,” said Friends of the Rail Park Vice President Michael Garden. “[The Rail Park] is more similar to La Promenade Plantée in Paris.”
Paris’ own railway park was inaugurated in 1993. The High Line in New York, built on an historic freight rail line, opened to the public in 2009.
Philadelphia’s future Rail Park will eventually extend three miles from Brewerytown to Northern Liberties. The long-term construction plans include a bike lane, room for retail shops and plenty of green space.
Friends of the Rail Park is trying to raise awareness and support for the project. Over the summer, they tested the location with a concept that appeals to many Philadelphians: a beer garden.
The PHS ran a pop-up beer garden at a choice location along the Reading Viaduct at 10th and Hamilton streets. This is also the site for the first phase of construction.
“We weren’t sure what to expect going in,” said Barg. “We tried to highlight all of the mystery in the neighborhood.”
Barg called the beer garden a success and hopes the surrounding businesses profited from their proximity to it.
“It drew a different type of crowd than what I would say this neighborhood is used to gathering,” said Tony Montagnaro of W/N W/N Coffee Bar. “People were engaged, but it was a business class kind of crowd- lots of button up shirts and suits. My gut reaction to it is that it was just another beer garden.”
Montagnaro also co-owns a café at 931 Spring Garden St. He said the café didn’t see a significant increase in business while the beer garden was open just a few blocks away, but believes that the eventual transformation will benefit the neighborhood.
“I feel positively about there being public space here and making use of something that has been rotting,” said Montagnaro.
The first phase of construction is scheduled to finish by late 2017.