After two years and $20 million in renovations, LOVE Park is almost ready for prime time. The exact date for the ribbon cutting hasn’t been released, but it’s slated for sometime next month.
That’s right — the park hasn’t actually reopened yet.
Despite the disappearance of construction equipment and the return of the namesake sculpture in February, JFK Plaza (the park’s official name) has not yet reached its final revamped state. Which is an important note. Because so far, the reception to the new design has been decidedly unenthusiastic.
Original renderings from designers at Hargreaves Associates looked promising. There are wide open green spaces, benches aplenty, Katsura trees in rosy bloom, fountain jets dancing and coworkers chatting over lattes at the “flying saucer” concession stand.
So what’s not to love? Per several vocal critics, including an op-ed cross-published in The Citizen and PMN, the new look for the 53-year-old hangout spot doesn’t come close to the ideal presented in those renderings.
The underlying sentiment is that LOVE park has been revitalized so much it’s been left with no joie de vivre at all.
However, there’s hidden value in what’s already there, officials and designers say, and there’s more on the way — including the return of food trucks to the plaza.
Here’a a look at the pros and cons of the evolved LOVE Park.
Con: Hostile design is hostile
“Sterile, horrendous, tragic,” wrote a Philly-based transportation planner on Twitter, posting annotated images to back up her claim.
Ouch. Kind of like the “ouch” you’d feel if your ass was plopped for more than 10 or 15 minutes on this clunky, rigid seating. If you’re the type of person who wants a high-intensity core workout while eating your meatball hoagie, then LOVE Park is ready for you!
However, per a Parks & Rec spokesperson, these are only the skeletons of seating options that will eventually be spruced up.
Additional details were not available.
Pro: Sustainable architecture is good
The Welcome Center, aka the flying saucer, will not only bring more activity to the park, it’ll be a discussion topic in its own right
Saint-Gobain, a 353-year-old multinational that specializes in building materials, has its North American headquarters in Malvern. The company made a $700,000 commitment to the redevelopment of the center, and construction will only involve the use of sustainable materials.
Per a 2016 news release, the latest and most eco-friendly in glass technology will be incorporated to make the Welcome Center “truly transparent by day and luminous by night.”
Of note, Saint-Gobain will be putting its green thumb on other mega-developments in Philadelphia as well, such as the “Platinum Corridor” in University City and Nicetown Community Development Corporation’s revitalization efforts.
Con: What about the skateboarders?
In spite of years of controversy and policies that aimed to ban skating, LOVE Park was a premier skateboarder destination for decades. Even ESPN’s X Games took advantage of the space for the competition in 2002.
Now that skateboarding is on the rise and is becoming less stigmatized, architects like Anthony Bracali, one of the designers behind Paine’s Park, was hoping LOVE Park would become skate-friendly once again.
He was sorely disappointed.
“What struck me first when I first walked through it was how flat and vast it felt. In a bad way,” Bracali said. “There are essentially no changes in elevation, no subspaces or different zones. It’s boring. It’s such a missed opportunity.”
Bracali, who has never skateboarded and who used to have the “typical negative stereotype” of the sport, was converted by Paine’s Park co-designer and SkateNerd owner, Brian Nugent. Currently, the city is not accommodating the public’s interest in skateboarding, he asserts.
The amount of traction and attention Paine’s Park has received since its opening in 2013 is justification enough, he said, as are the artistic expressions of mourning that have surfaced in response to LOVE Park’s renovation.
“You don’t have to be a designer to know that this feels underthought,” continued Bracali, “it should be compelling, and it should ideally allow skating. Right now? It’s undercooked.”
Pro: It’s not finished yet
The ribbon hasn’t officially been cut, reminded Jennifer Crandall, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation public relations manager.
Things are “still happening,” she told Billy Penn, and “more and more features and design elements are coming to the park.”
Exactly what those will be has yet to be divulged.
Crandall did reveal that the Lunch in Love program will be back, with a rotating line-up of food trucks vending at the plaza from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
And then there’s the concessions at the Saint-Gobain-revamped Welcome Center. The city is currently seeking a restaurateur with the financial means to make “necessary improvements” to the kitchen space and to “acquire a liquor license.”