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In the News Index

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: March 12, 2002
Byline: Stephan Salisbury


A plan for a greener and brighter JFK Plaza

New plants, lighting and benches may discourage illegal skateboarding in "LOVE Park." The plan would cost $1 million.

It's a mecca for skateboarders.

And chess players, no-power lunchers, gabbers, watchers, and rats.

JFK Plaza - City Hall towering above it, Art Museum looming in the distance, LOVE in the middle of it all - is about as urban as it gets.

Now the city wants to spruce it up, softening the hard edges, adding a little green, subtracting some skate mavens and rodents, and maybe, just maybe, adding a sprinkle of sitters and a dash of diners.

The renovation plan, which is still evolving, envisions a deck and cafe tacked onto the circular - and currently vacant - Visitors Center building. The plan recently received general approval from the Philadelphia Art Commission, but it must still make its way through Fairmount Park Commission approvals before work can begin.

The city has no firm estimate of cost, but the park commission has said the plaza needs about $1.5 million in repairs. City officials figure renovation will run somewhere in excess of $1 million.

Terrie S. Rouse, the consultant who is coordinating the effort for the city, said the decision to renovate was prompted by Mayor Street's desire "to revitalize something that's deteriorated." Work is expected to begin shortly, with new green areas complete by the end of the summer, and new pavement, benches and lighting installed by a year from now. The architect for the project is Buell Kratzer Powell and the landscape architect is Synterra; both are based in the city.

The plan - which Rouse called more a refurbishment than a transformation - calls for extensive grassy areas along the south side of the plaza, near JFK Boulevard, and along the eastern 16th Street edge. New planters would be introduced, largely on the 17th Street side. More flowers and less rodent-friendly ground covering and shrubbery are in store.

Current light stanchions will be replaced and the flat stone benches will make way for wooden ones. Broken and loose paving will be replaced or removed.

Officials say they have been sensitive to the fact that JFK Plaza is known nationally as one of the best places to skateboard in the universe. LOVE Park, as it is also known, with its jarring granite pavement, its flat-topped stone walls, its broad benches, its steps and cracks, is the Banzai Pipeline of skateboarding.

"It's got everything - the ledges, the benches - and it's pretty spacious," said Steve, a 17-year-old skateboarder, adding: Forget about last names. Skateboarding is illegal in JFK Plaza, he noted.

Tod, another first-name-only 17-year-old skater, said JFK Plaza is "maybe the best [skatepark] on the East Coast."

Plants and slatted wooden benches, though, make for less appealing skating. What did the skaters think about a grassier, less skateboard-friendly plaza?

"If they don't want you to skate the stuff," Steve said, "they shouldn't make it like this in the first place."

Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District, a service organization, said his group had talked informally with skateboarders about the possibility of establishing a skatepark near 16th and Vine Streets. He said there seemed to be interest in the idea, which might move some skating action out of LOVE Park.

Rouse, meanwhile, said that adding a cafe, new benches and a lawn would tempt more people into using what she called "an icon of the city."

The Center City District has pushed before for a more elaborate renovation of JFK Plaza.

As Levy said yesterday: "JFK Plaza has been so badly maintained and neglected for so long that the fact the mayor is paying attention and seeking improvement in the park is a welcome sign."

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