By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - City Council President Darrell Clarke today is unveiling his plan to remake the famed Love Park in Center City. Clarke believes the park's grand view of the Ben Franklin Parkway would be enhanced with some equally grand restaurants – in the park itself.
Mayor Nutter plans to sell the parking garage underneath Love Park and to use $16.5-million of taxpayer money to refurbish the park itself. Council President Clarke today will have Nutter's plan introduced, but he is offering a twist: he wants the park leased for new indoor and outdoor restaurants.
"It will enhance the experience on the park," Clarke said. "By having restaurants and some of the other things associated with it, enhancing the fountain, still maintaining the iconic Love statue, and maintaining the park-like setting."
And Clarke says the revenues from the leases could pay for the park's renovation, instead of using taxpayer dollars.
"We'd like to see the possibility of entering into a long-term lease with either this operator (chosen by Nutter) or another operator, to potentially develop the park, utilizing revenues generated from restaurant space, being in a position not have the city of Philadelphia spend taxpayer dollars on this site."
He envisions upwards of 26,000 square feet for restaurants, though he does not yet specify the precise number and nature of eateries.
"We have had a couple of designs that show a wonderful space, maintaining a park-like setting, being able to utilize both open-air and to some degree some closed-in restaurant space, and still allowing the vistas (of the Parkway) that we currently have at Love Park."
Clarke, who represents the district that includes the park, says the restaurant venues will not affect the park experience:
"I think there's a way we can do both," he said. "We can maintain a park environment, but one where we can increase revenue opportunities and improve the experience of Love Park by having restaurants as part of this proposal."
Under the mayor's plan, a bid of nearly $30 million from a Chicago firm called InterPark was chosen under a process that began in the summer. The firm would be responsible for renovating the garage with its own money, and would oversee the renovation of Love Park itself, using $16.5 million of city money. The city would retain ownership of the park itself.
Clarke insists his proposal is not meant to scuttle Nutter's plan, but to enhance it and make it cost-free for taxpayers. Both the mayor's plan to sell the garage and Clarke's plan to lease the park will be debated in Council in the new year.
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