By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A group of Fairmount Park advocates says that Philadelphia City Council president Darrell Clarke’s plan to put restaurants in Love Park would turn that famed site into “a food court.”
Members of the group are now lobbying councilmembers to stop the plan.
It was a month ago that Clarke unveiled his plan to lease Love Park for new indoor and outdoor restaurants (see previous story).
But now, the Philadelphia Parks Alliance has sent strongly worded letters to Clarke, saying that the plan violates both state and city laws and is simply bad public policy.
In the group’s words, the eateries would transform “the most iconic park in the city into a food court.”
Similar letters were sent to all other councilmembers.
Clarke, in response, simply shrugs.
“I believe everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” he says.
The Parks Alliance says the proposal violates the state’s “Donated or Dedicated Property Act,” and invokes a city law — authored by Clarke himself — that says the city must acquire an equal amount of land to replace any parkland that is converted to another use.
According to the group’s letter to Clarke, the cost of buying such land, if it exists, would exceed the money generated by the new restaurants.
Clarke does not dispute that the legal questions must be resolved: “I’ve said all along that there are certain legislative hurdles, depending on the approach or the characterization of the proposal.”
But he does believe that the city’s “Open Lands Protection Ordinance” does not apply in this instance.
“Our contention is, this is not the replacement or the removal of a park,” Clarke says. “It is simply enhancement of a park, so therefore I do not believe those statutes would come into effect.”
Clarke hopes to sit down with members of the Philadelphia Parks Alliance and find some middle ground.
“I think the ultimate outcome of this process will be all-inclusive,” he tells KYW Newsradio. I have a call in to some of the leadership of that organization, so they can understand what our particular proposal means, and the likelihood of having something there that everybody could feel good about,” Clarke explains.
He proposes upwards of 26,000 square feet for restaurants, though he does not yet specify the precise number and nature of those eateries.
And Clarke says the revenues from the leases could pay for the park’s renovation, instead of using taxpayer dollars.
Clarke, the Council president, is pushing this plan as Mayor Nutter moves ahead with a related plan to sell the parking garage underneath Love Park and to use $16.5 million of taxpayer money to refurbish the park itself.
Both the mayor’s plan to sell the garage and Clarke’s plan to lease the park are expected to be debated in City Council in the next few months.