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A Public Private Partnership – Dilworth Plaza

The goal of any public-private partnership is to get good things done that benefit local governmental entities while also making economic sense. Center City District (CCD) has raised this concept to new heights with the new Dilworth Park.  CCD the City of Philadelphia and SEPTA all had significant roles in the transformation of an underused, dingy, and lifeless plaza adjacent to City Hall and the commercial center of the City, into a user friendly, populated, interesting, event-filled and inviting park space.  Private entities – the Café and the Ice Skating Rink – are also involved in the project.  Because of the involvement of three public entities, the Park is really a Public3 – Private undertaking.

CCD asked Kleinbard and Bernie Kolodner, the head of its Real Estate Group, to represent it in connection with the various legal matters impacting the Park project.  The City owns the Park, SEPTA operates the regional rail lines and trollies under the Park, and CCD was going to do all of the demolition and construction work.  CCD and the City needed to enter into a lease for the site.  SEPTA required the work to be completed without interrupting the flow of its transit operations, and, in order to coordinate all the SEPTA and Park work, CCD needed to do much of SEPTA’s work.  The project was not a formal partnership, but it was an example of monumental cooperation among public entities.

Because the City owns the land, CCD was the main force behind an ordinance allowing the City to lease the Park. But the ordinance did not and could not contain every term of the relationship  between CCD and the City.  The lease for the Park had to be negotiated, and an operations plan was created so that there would be a seamless process to manage the Park, keep it lively, and maintain its availability to the public, subject to various City requirements.

Similarly, the relationship with SEPTA was complex.  The leased premises is not just the surface of the Park, but includes underground spaces, to the extent that SEPTA does not have facilities there already.  CCD struggled with the logistics of how to provide for Park work above and all around SEPTA while being mindful of proper concerns of the transit agency to protect its passengers and SEPTA’s operating service. Rather than having separate contractors in the same space at the same time, CCD undertook some work on behalf of SEPTA.  This raised intricate and unusual construction-related issues that were brought back and negotiated with CCD’s general contractor.

The relationships among the various public entities, each of which usually expects  deference because of its public status, needed to be balanced in ways that these agencies were not used to. Applying his 30+ years of experience negotiating complex real estate deals to this unique puzzle, Bernie was able to achieve compromise and resolution among the varied, powerful, public interests involved.

The Park opened with a great splash, both with extensive press coverage and as a result of its multiple water fountains, on a bright and sunny day that was a wonderful omen for the many people basking in the sunshine and enjoying the initial activities in the Park. Transit riders will benefit from the much improved facilities that were created, and all will benefit from a Café in the park year round, and an ice rink in the cold months which will insure that there’s activity and interest in Park in all four seasons. The project constitutes a stellar example of a Public3 – Public partnership for progress in the City of Philadelphia.