South view of the Park at Penn's Landing at dusk, showing the mass timber building at its center. The building is slated to be Philly's first net-zero carbon building. (Hargreaves Jones and Kieran Timberlake via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)

A groundbreaking for the cap park stretching over I-95 is set for the day after Labor Day, according to the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

The Sept. 6 ceremony marks a milestone for the 11.5-acre public space that will reconnect Center City to the waterfront with a multi-use plaza arcing above the highway from Chestnut to Walnut streets. The original ceremony was postponed three months ago following the Northeast Philly highway collapse. 

The $329 million project also includes a new, separate bridge that lets people walk or bike from South Street to the Delaware River Trail. Preliminary construction began in March, and is expected to take at least two years to complete.

Overview of the planned Park at Penn’s Landing. (Hargreaves Jones via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)

What does this all mean for residents, traffic, recreation, and public safety? Here’s what you need to know about the space, dubbed the Park at Penn’s Landing

What is a ‘cap’ park? 

CAP is short for Central Access Philadelphia, but it’s also a convenient reference to the fact that the park would “cap,” or cover, a busy roadway with a public space. 

The existing cap would be demolished and replaced with the large park, which was proposed as part of the larger Delaware River Waterfront Master Plan for the stretch of the river that spans from Port Richmond to Pennsport.

The project extends to the existing RiverRink, which will host a mulitpurpose plaza. (Hargreaves Jones via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)

Its highway span will start near where the Blue Cross RiverRink sits on the riverbank and stretch into Old City, near where the Ritz Five movie theater is. At 11.5 acres, it’s slightly smaller than the footprint of Lincoln Financial Field. 

What will the Park at Penn’s Landing contain? 

Lots of green space, but also a stage for concerts, a play area, and multiple cafes. Renderings also show a “flex-use” plaza that could be used by food trucks, for movie nights, roller skating, festivals, farmer’s markets and more. The city is also thinking about adding interactive art in and around the park. 

At the park’s center will be a mass timber structure that’s slated to be Philly’s first net-zero carbon building (meaning construction and operations are carbon-neutral). It’ll house the cafe and an open-air pavilion.

The planned breezeway at the center of the Park at Penn’s Landing’s will be open to the air with a covered roof. (Kieran Timberlake via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)

Society Hill residents Kathleen Stephenson and Hannah Poole are ecstatic about the idea of an additional connection between the city and the riverfront. 

“Anything that makes it easier for me to walk is okay with me!” said Stephenson. “The waterfront is so disconnected from the rest of the city so I think it’s great,” Poole told Billy Penn.

The planned play area will have places for kids to crawl, climb, swing, and explore, inspired by Pennsylvania’s woodlands. (Hargreaves Jones via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)

Will construction affect my commute? 

PennDOT describes “minor lane shifts on the mainline and adjacent ramps” during construction, as well as occasional and brief road blocks on Columbus Boulevard (aka Delaware Avenue) and Front Street, with clearly marked detours. 

The first detour is a temporary closure of the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge over I-95, beginning Tuesday, September 5.

Pedestrian access between Center City and the waterfront will remain available on Dock Street and Market Street during construction.

Who’s paying for it? 

The $329.8 million cost is being funded by a mix of federal, local, and private money

Previous Coverage

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation partnered with the Federal Highway Administration, PennDOT, and other agencies on the project. When complete, the park will be owned and overseen by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

How long has this been in the works?

This version started almost 20 years ago as the Civic Vision for Central Delaware, as part of a collaboration with Penn School of Design’s PennPraxis, which also launched PlanPhilly as part of the project.

But discussions for a cap over a portion of the highway have been happening since its construction in the 1960s.

Isn’t it hard to build a whole park over a highway?

CAP parks have been done before, as early as the late 1940s in New York with the Brooklyn Heights promenade over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. 

Other projects have included Seattle’s Freeway Park and Boston’s Big Dig that created the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. St. Louis is also in the middle of construction of a cap park, and Los Angeles and Chicago might join the list soon. 

Interior view of the cafe, which will have views of the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Delaware River. (Kieran Timberlake via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)
With funding from the Knight Foundation, the Knight Commons will offer nooks and gardens on the park’s southeast corner. (Hargreaves Jones via Delaware River Waterfront Corporation)

Update Aug. 30: A previous version of this story suggested the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing would be adjacent to the cap park; instead, it will be incorporated into the park.

Heather Chin is Billy Penn's deputy editor. She previously was a digital producer at the Inquirer and an editor at outlets both print and digital — from national breaking news service Flipboard to hyperlocal...