Philadelphians have their first look at the future of Thomas Paine Plaza, thanks to concept renderings prepared for an Art Commission review of the new public space coming to Center City.
The proposed design includes more seating, trees, and green space, as well as sloped entrances for improved accessibility. The $20 million renovation plan also highlights public art, and aims to provide park users with a great view of City Hall and the William Penn statue atop its tower.
Construction has already begun on the austere plaza, which surrounds the Municipal Services Building and was previously home to the Frank Rizzo statue. The well-worn “Your Move” game piece art installed has been removed, and the shaky concrete floor has been pulled up — to the chagrin of skateboarders who considered the plaza a main gathering spot.
What can we expect in Paine Plaza’s new incarnation? A very different look, per the Dept. of Public Property renderings.
The perimeter walls around the whole space will be softened with sloped walkways, and a new stepped access point from 15th Street. In contrast to the existing stark concrete steps, the terrace leading to MSB’s main entrance will be mostly covered in plant beds — an “arrival grove” — surrounded by wooden benches, with a ramp leading up the middle.
To the right of the tall building, a brutalist structure that houses several city departments, the plaza will be split into two areas, one larger (10k square feet) and one smaller (6k square feet).
The south area, across from City Hall, should be able to accommodate 1,000 people, per the design specs, and the north area, near Arch Street, will be able to accommodate 500.
A semipermeable metal canopy providing a shaded seating area is planned for the small strip of plaza that wraps around the west side of the building, across from Love Park, and renderings show a potential kiosk located adjacent to it.
Plans also call for the addition of new lighting via more than 60 RGBW bulbs whose color can be changed depending on events or activities held in different parts of the plaza.
Made from energy- and cost-efficient LEDs, the lamps are intended to highlight entrances, spotlight plantings, and demarcate seating areas.
To come up with the new design, the city held five hour-long focus groups that included MSB workers, according to spokesperson Laila Sadat. There was also an online survey for the employees and the building’s public visitors in April and early May. On June 1, the proposed improvements were shown at a public pop-up event to gather final feedback.
Thomas Paine Plaza is now entering the second of three construction phases, per the city’s letter to the Art Commission.
The first phase, referred to as “roof waterproofing,” involved stripping the concrete floor. The second phase, which will “make improvements to the design of the plaza, within existing perimeter walls and above structural deck,” is due to break ground in May 2024. In the final phase, the goal is to “infill the sunken plaza area and further connect to surrounding sidewalks,” per the Philadelphia 2035 plan.”
Funding for the project is coming from Philadelphia’s Capital Program, a six-year plan for investing in city-owned property. As of yet, a target completion date has not been set.