By Pat Loeb

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been years in the planning, and it will be years more to completion, but Philadelphia’s three-mile Rail Park through Center City is close to breaking ground.

Only the state budget mess is holding it back.

The Center City District (CCD) is awaiting for the release of a $3.5 million dollar Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant so it can put out Requests for Proposals for Phase One, a quarter-mile stretch connecting North Broad with the Reading Viaduct.

 

(Credit: STUDIO | BRYAN HANES)

(Credit: STUDIO | BRYAN HANES)

“We can break ground this summer and all be enjoying it by Fall 2017,” says an optimistic Michael Garden, of Friends of the Rail Park, a non-profit working with CCD on planning and fundraising.

In addition to the RACP grant, CCD has raised more than $5 million of the needed $9.6 million for Phase One. A benefit concert Thursday at Union Transfer, featuring the Bacon Brothers, could complete the funding effort.

But Garden finds the participation of the Bacon Brothers significant in any event.

Movie star Kevin Bacon was an early supporter of New York’s High Line, to which the Rail Park has been compared. He and his brother are the sons of reknowned city planner, the late Edmund Bacon.

 

Artist rendering of Rail Trail (Credit: STUDIO | BRYAN HANES)

Artist rendering of Rail Trail (Credit: STUDIO | BRYAN HANES)

“To have that family involved on a project that could transform or change the face of our city in the 21st century is pretty special,” says Garden.

About that comparison to the High Line, though. Garden says Philadelphia’s park will be twice the length and, in most places, twice the width.

The full vision begins along Fairmount Park at Girard and 31st Sts. and travels under Pennsylvania Avenue through an existing but unused tunnel. It emerges behind the Rodin and continues through a path called “The Cut” to the back of the School District headquarters on 15th St.

 

(Credit: STUDIO | BRYAN HANES)

(Credit: STUDIO | BRYAN HANES)

Phase One begins across Broad Street from the School District, at an abandoned Reading dining car that sits at the intersection with Noble St., and gradually rises as it goes east.

Garden says the prospective park has already sparked development and new residents, in turn, are already using parts of the trail for recreation, including hanging a giant tire swing from overhead structures that once served the railroad until the route was changed with construction of the Convention Center and Vine Street Expressway.

But artists renderings of the finished space, by Studio Bryan Hanes, show the weed-choked pathways now there transformed, like a caterpillar to a butterfly.

There are stone walls, wooden seating areas, mature trees growing from a bridge, a playground and stairs to the street for access.

Michael Garden stands by a building Friends of the Rail Park hopes some day to restore (photo credit Pat Loeb)

Michael Garden stands by a building Friends of the Rail Park hopes some day to restore (photo credit Pat Loeb)

In addition to recreation, they show the park as a major bike thorofare. Planners are working with the Mural Arts Project and the Horticultural Society and see opportunities for a cafe, performance spaces and a pop up watering hole, thus embracing all the elements of Philadelphia’s renaissance.

“We want to bring cultural educational and health and wellness events so it’s not just a neighborhood park but it’s a destination for people around the city and around the region,” says Garden.

Septa now owns the land that Phase One would occupy. Garden says it will lease that portion to the Center City District, which is managing construction. When complete, the city will take ownership. The Friends will partner with the Parks and Rec Department so they can provide the higher level of maintenance that some of the features require.

“We’ll be fundraising for the next 10 to 15 years,” Garden says cheerfully.