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Local residents are hoping that the end of a series of forums held to discuss development plans for Penn's Landing will prompt the city to move ahead with work on the waterfront area.

At a final public meeting co-hosted by Penn Praxis, an organization within the Graduate School of Fine Arts, and The Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday, more than 300 residents, students and architects voted on three proposed designs for the site and made recommendations that will be passed onto Mayor John Street.

The aim of organizers was to allow the people of Philadelphia the chance to voice their opinions before the city launched into another attempt to develop the 13 acres along the Delaware River.

Previous failed plans to reconstruct the area discounted public sentiment and incited dissatisfaction from Philadelphia residents, particularly those residing near the waterfront. Additionally, the city's timing with past designs for the area have been poor, according to Inquirer Editorial Page Editor and forum leader Chris Satullo.

"Big plans that failed took a long time to come together, and they were based on a strong economy," he said. "By the time [the plans] came around, the economy had gone south."

The recent round of public forums was timed during an economic downturn so that the plans will be ready to "catch the next upswing," Satullo said.

Following two public meetings, architects created three potential construction designs for Penn's Landing at a day-long meeting on Feb. 26 based on seven principals developed at the second forum.

These principles indicated the desire of citizens for easy access to Penn's Landing, which they hoped would remain a public space.

The three designs were presented at the final meeting last week, and those in attendance were "given a ballot and asked to evaluate the plans on how well they thought the plan fulfilled the Penn's Landing principles, and what level, on a scale of one to 10, would you like to see the plan happen," Satullo said.

The "Independent Harbor Plan," developed by architects Larry McEwen, Bob Brown and Jose Aliminana, along with a team of others, including two Penn students, garnered the most support, but by a narrow margin.

The design would allow the city to "market Camden and Old City together as one regional destination," Penn Praxis director Harris Steinberg said.

It also includes a "massive, cool, green, funky amphitheater that slopes down to the river," he added.

Additionally, McEwen stated that the plan includes a wading pool for children and suggested that the river be used as part of the irrigation system for the green space.

Despite the selection of the plan, Satullo noted that it was the one about which attendants felt least passionate, and that the other two garnered more extreme high and low ratings.

"No one really loved it. No one really hated it," he said. "And in the end, that is how it won."

One of the alternate plans was to make the area a respite with open green space purely for public use. The other suggested covering Interstate 95 and building housing on top of the cover. It also included retail and cultural buildings -- in addition to a promenade along the water -- as part of its design.

At the forums, many residents expressed a common interest in the latter plan. But Satullo noted that one has to look at the economic pros and cons of such a move to determine its viability.

Covering I-95 would cost a lot of money, he said -- perhaps $200 million. But then again, he said, that's "one-fifth of the money we're spending on stadiums overall."

And "if the federal government is going to pick up the tab... it's a different story."

Still, a project like this could take decades to complete, he added.

The selection made at the forum is just a preliminary suggestion, although public input will be presented to the city for consideration before a final decision is made.

Citizens can also vote online for the project they favor. Currently, 1,700 individuals have cast votes, and the third project is in the lead.

"We pull together all of the input and data we've received from the architect and the planning committee... report to the mayor, the City Planning Commission and the Penn's Landing Corporation," Satullo said. "We sit down with them, spend some time going through what we heard."

"City officials have attended all of our sessions," Steinberg said. "We have the full support of the city, and that's really critical."

But it's anyone's guess as to when the Mayor's Office will commit to a final plan, what that final plan will be and when construction on the site will begin, Satullo said.

"John Street does things on his own timetable," he said. "So anyone who predicts when John Street will do something is either married to John Street or a fool."

"I think you're looking at a lot of negotiation between the city, private developers, the federal government," McEwen said.

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