For a long time, Parks and Recreation Department Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell would get a little worried when she looked outside her 10th floor office window onto what’s left of LOVE Park. The patch of dirt and concrete she saw below reminded her almost of “getting your kitchen demo’d” and not being sure it would ever look like a kitchen again.
“There’s just been quite a few hiccups,” Ott Lovell said.
Because of complications stemming from what excavators found beneath the original park and above the underground parking garage, the LOVE Park renovation has been taking significantly longer than anticipated. As anyone who peeks behind the fences surrounding the park can tell, the original estimated completion date of spring 2017 has no chance of happening. Ott Lovell told Billy Penn the realistic goal for the park’s open date is now late September, with the flying saucer visitor center-turned-restaurant likely opening later. The LOVE statue, which was taken out of Dilworth Park last month, will remain at an undisclosed location undergoing restoration until the park’s $16.5 million renovation is complete.
The “hiccups” are nothing serious. Design plans haven’t changed, and the new LOVE Park is still going to look the way it’s pictured in renderings finalized in fall 2015, when Mayor Michael Nutter and his administration were still in power. Everything has just taken longer to get to this point, where construction has finally begun and the demolition ended.
That demolition started in February 2016 and then it continued and continued and continued. Workers kept uncovering pieces of unexpected brick and stone structures, piping, and about 60 percent more dirt than expected under the park and above the parking garage and Suburban Station.
“It looks so wild, like you can just see all these substructures underneath that we just sort of didn’t know existed,” Ott Lovell said. “It’s been a tricky project from day one.”
The Parks Department and private firms working on the project, Hargreaves Associates and Kieran Timberlake, didn’t know the substructures existed because nobody could find the old plans — the “as-built drawings” that are supposed to be completed when a project is finished. The original LOVE Park was thought up by Edmund Bacon, 6-degrees-of-Kevin Bacon’s father, and built in 1965. They asked retired engineers, searched city archives, checked with SEPTA and the Streets Department. Either the as-built drawings never existed or disappeared over the years.
So when crews began tearing up LOVE Park, the planning and design team finally learned what they were dealing with.
“You unearth it, and you learn a lot more,” said Mary Margaret Jones, president/senior principal at Hargreaves Associates, adding that these challenges aren’t uncommon for urban architecture projects situated on top of existing structures.
Said Ott Lovell: “It’s like a little mystery box down there.”
The good news, she said, is the excavation and demolition phase has ended. The park is now being prepared for the construction. Trucks are moving away the dirt, and the ground is being leveled off in preparation for stone. Utility work with pipes and other materials is being done below ground. By May, progress should be noticeable for people passing by.
“It won’t look like much for a little while,” Jones said, “and then suddenly it will start to look like a park.”