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PHILADELPHIA-The 38-year-old Penn’s Landing Corp. will be revamped into a waterfront management agency with “greater transparency” and a broader mandate of overseeing development along the central Delaware River, Mayor Michael Nutter said Thursday evening. In line with an action plan presented on Thursday and endorsed by Nutter, the mayor will begin appointing a new board for the renamed Delaware Waterfront Corp. within 30 days, and will also submit an interim zoning plan for the district to City Council by September.

Nutter also said he would ask PennPraxis—the nonprofit planning group which outlined a 10-point, 10-year program for the waterfront on Thursday—to conduct a 30-day to 60-day study of whether the two casinos planned for the area would compromise the program’s goals. Specifically, the study will look at whether casino traffic would interfere with plans to make a stretch of Delaware Avenue and Columbus Boulevard more pedestrian-friendly.

“We must answer the essential question: Can the casino plans at their proposed locations work or not? An honest, legitimate, third-party analysis must be conducted,” said Nutter in prepared remarks at the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing. Harris Steinberg, executive director of PennPraxis, tells GlobeSt.com that his organization will analyze the casino plans’ current transportation models as well as developing “what sustainable development models for this type of use would be.” PennPraxis is an operation of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

Legislation was recently introduced in Harrisburg that would require the two planned riverfront casinos—SugarHouse and Foxwoods Philadelphia—to relocate to sites near Philadelphia International Airport. A SugarHouse source tells GlobeSt.com, “Our plan of development was approved by the City Planning Commission in May 2007. We intend to build our casino as designed and as approved by the planning commission.” The source adds that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling in favor of the casinos last December “ordered that our site be zoned as a commercial entertainment district and that the city accept and process our building permits.”

A Foxwoods Development source tells GlobeSt.com, “Foxwoods’ plans are consistent with many of the goals of the waterfront development plan. We fully intend to move forward with our project—which includes landscaped areas, waterfront access and biking and walking trails—on our site on South Columbus Boulevard.”

Revamping the Penn’s Landing Corp. and broadening its mandate “is actually our No. 1 recommendation,” Steinberg says. “We believe it has the capacity, with the right governance, to be the engine for change.” A key factor in this capacity is the expansion of the agency’s jurisdiction from 2.2 miles along the central Delaware waterfront to seven miles, he says.

Over the years since Penn’s Landing Corp. was established, the agency has received a number of large-scale development proposals that failed to pan out. At one point in 2003, nine developers were vying for a crack at the seven-mile swath of land. In late 2005, the agency was hit by scandal as Leonard Ross, the former head of the developer selection committee for Penn’s Landing, pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud and extortion.

“For more than a generation, the Delaware waterfront has been the target of big ideas that went nowhere,” said Nutter. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that no single mega-project is going to be our panacea, our catalyst for renewal. And so what we need to do is think in terms of a series of big or small projects that can create an environment for investment and the momentum for change.”

PennPraxis’ “Action Plan for the Central Delaware 2008-2018″ is intended to provide just such a series of projects. The report follows up on its unveiling last November of a civic vision that had been ordered a year earlier by then-Mayor John Street. The civic vision project was reportedly the seventh attempt at mapping out waterfront redevelopment since 1973. The action plan represents “what you can do in 10 years, 10 concrete steps that could get the city on the road to achieving the vision,” Steinberg says.

Along with reforming Penn’s Landing Corp., the action plan recommends that the city: adopt clear zoning, a detailed master plan and a coordinated regulatory policy; build a continuous, seven-mile trail along the Delaware waterfront; create new parks and improve two existing parks; guarantee public access to the riverfront and make it easier for residents to walk and bike to the river; extend public transit to the river; extend key streets to the river; manage traffic and parking in the central Delaware area; create a 100-foot greenway along the water’s edge; and create a natural river’s edge and restore habitat.

Nutter did not adopt all 10 of the points in the action plan, but Steinberg says the mayor did accept “the critical ones,” topped off by overhauling Penn’s Landing Corp. Nutter went “a very long way in embracing, accepting and even acting on the recommendations without wholeheartedly accepting every one of them,” says Steinberg, adding with a laugh, “I think he went about as far as you could expect a mayor to go.”

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