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Nathan Star, a professor from Maryland, holds the number of the group he will moderate at a forum on developing Penn's Landing. After the lecture component, each group moved to a private room to offer suggestions. [Ari Friedman/The Daily Pennsylvanian

Philadelphians crave both a pastoral haven and a commercial hub, but one 13-acre stretch of land along the Delaware River may be insufficient to accommodate both. Approximately 200 Penn students and city residents met last night in Meyerson Hall to discuss the developmental potential of Penn's Landing, an area between Market and Lombard Streets on the eastern edge of Center City. "It's about time the public was asked their opinion of what to do down there," Society Hill resident Pamela Todd said. Last night's event was the second in a series of three forums organized and sponsored by The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board and Penn's Graduate School of Fine Arts. In the past, "developmental decisions have been driven pretty much by a small, elite group of politicians," Inquirer Editorial Page Editor Chris Satullo said. "They haven't been too interested in public input." Satullo described the evening as an opportunity for "organic, civic dialogue." After representatives from project organizers delivered introductory remarks, attendants broke into small groups to discuss their disparate visions for the area. College senior Eric Mandel said he would like to see "something that combines public space, but you have to have restaurants and offices and something more so I have a reason to go down there." "I don't think there is a significant amount of park land where people can play sports," Philadelphia resident Chris Torpie said. Indeed, a central conflict arose between people who desire a retail and entertainment center and people who hope to reserve the area for recreational uses, such as parks and bike paths. "There's tension between public use and public amenity," said Stan Browne, who served as chairman of Penn's Landing Corporation from 1981 to 1997. "Where do you draw the line?" Multiple attempts have been made over the past 40 years to rebuild Penn's Landing. The most recent one, which would have brought retail posts, including a movie theater, to the area, failed when the Simon Property Group's development team pulled out of the project last summer. Major obstacles to following through with development plans include the presence of Interstate 95, which cuts Penn's Landing off from Center City. As a result of the highway's placement, accessibility to the area is difficult and unsatisfactory for most Philadelphia citizens. Developing the area could also be advantageous to the University if it could help keep former students in the area after graduation -- an issue which officials have addressed recently. Some of the people in attendance were skeptical of the city's promise to take their opinions into consideration. However, Satullo made it clear that the city is not willing to risk displeasing its citizens again. The Hyatt Regency was built on Penn's Landing, "despite their protests," and was very unpopular with area residents, Satullo explained. "I'm interested in what the public's interested in," claimed Bart Bernstein, a developer with Tower Investments, Inc. He will propose a $300 million "mixed-use development" project which would include "festive retail, residential and office space." The forums have been received positively. "It's always really powerful when people who have different opinions come together," said Jeff Gibbon, a second-year architecture student in Penn's Graduate School of Fine Arts. "It seems that there's movement." "It's a pleasure to see so many people interested in Penn's Landing," said Jodie Milkman, a Philadelphia resident who previously worked with a previous Penn's Landing redevelopment project. "I only hope these hearings play a role." The project is expected to take 24 months and will hopefully begin by the summer.

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