Dilworth Renovation Panel Becomes Forum for Occupiers

Posted on October 29, 2011 by

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While planners of the renovation of the Dilworth Plaza planned to discuss the design process on last week, the meeting became a forum for many Occupiers to ask questions about the use of $50 million at a time of economic crisis.

The City of Philadelphia is preparing for a major renovation of Dilworth Plaza, which is the current home to Occupy Philly’s Tent City. Estimates of Tent City’s population range from 500 tents to 1,000 people. With the renovation, the plaza would be closed because the renovation requires demolition that is dangerous.

The Plaza was designed in the 1960s and named after former mayor Richardson Dilworth. The renovations are a collaboration among the City of Philadelphia, SEPTA, and the Center City District.

The panel, who made its presentation to a packed house in a courtroom on the sixth floor of City Hall, described the $50 million as a bulwark for job creation and transit overhaul to help the local economy. Included on the panel were Gary Steuer, Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia and Director of the Office of Art, Culture, and Creative Economy; Paul Levy, Chief Executive Office of Philadelphia’s Center City District; Susan Weiler, partner at the Olin Studio; and  Richard Maimon, architect at KieranTimberlake. This perspective was met with skepticism and serious questions about desperately needed capital projects including schools and low-income housing.

The project, Levy said, will create 500 to 600 construction jobs and would produce roughly 20 full-time positions once it is completed. The bulk of financing for the project derives from Pres. Barack Obama’s stimulus package aimed at pumping capital into the economy to spur job creation.

Dilworth Plaza: Art component
Some of the design features include green space, a fountain, and moving art of lights and steam signaling the arrival and departure of various subway trains.

While most who spoke commented on the beauty of the design – most liked it – those who asked questions focused on the necessity of the project at this time. Many who spoke argued that the capital funds could be used for low-income housing, school and street improvements, and education.

Others expressed concerns about the long-term cost to the city. The panel said there would be no cost to the city for the next 30 years; it would be supported by the Center City District as well as revenue generated from the cafe and other attractions.

One resident pointed to Chicago as an example of the same promise, but she said that did not pan out. Her fear was that the city would inherit something it could not maintain.

Additional concerns addressed the homeless that will be displaced once construction begins. Some were skeptical about whether the city will continue to allow the homeless to stay after the renovations.

The construction project is anticipated to take around 27 months to complete, Levy said. His attempts to emphasize Dilworth Plaza would be open to all, including the homeless, were met with skepticism.

The city and Occupy are currently addressing the start date, as the permit is set to expire once the construction begins. This issue was not addressed at the meeting but was discussed at the GA, which ran concurrently with the panel discussions.

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