Philadelphia's broken ground on the latest project to make the city's riverfront more accessible: transforming a vacant concrete pier into a 1-acre park.

"We're building up," says Sarah Thorp, master planning manager with the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., a nonprofit organization that acts as the city's waterfront steward. And she means that literally. Before sod can be placed and landscaping planted, a low-slope ramp must be built to provide room for soil to be added. The high end of the slope will add 13 feet to the "ground" level.

The project began in April 2009 with a structural assessment. W.J. Castle & Associates P.C.'s inspection of the 80x540-foot pier above and below water identified damage requiring at least 100 repairs including deteriorated steel trusses, timber splitting among the piles, and spalling on the concrete decks.Hydro-Marine Construction was awarded construction. Preliminary steps included cleaning debris and demolishing the unused fender system. The company then rehabilitated the steel support trusses, timber piles, pile caps, and concrete decks, followed by prep work for landscaping.

Langan Engineering & Environmental Services and landscape architects James Corner Field Operations handled park design and planning. This included designing the support in the deck for 12 tree boxes, reshaping the decking and pier nose, and supporting the edges of the pier in preparation for walkway pavers.

The $6.1 million project is being funded through the city's capital improvements budget, a $1 million Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant, a $75,000 federal grant managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and two $350,000 donations from private foundations. Rehabilitation is expected to be completed by the end of 2010 with landscaping and paving to be finished in March 2011. At the groundbreaking ceremony in November, plans for a second project related to the park - pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street improvements - were announced.

Race Street Pier's upper level will feature a promenade with the lower level providing recreational and social space. One of the last phases will involve planting 37 fully grown trees. For $2,500, a tree can be donated by a resident, company, or organization; so far, 10 have been donated. Images: James Corner Field Operations.