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Biz Journal: Meet Michael Garden, who’s helping to fuel the Reading viaduct rail park project

March 16, 2015 Category: People

This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal here

Michael Garden, who is on the board of Friends of the Rail Park, will be part of an Urban Land Institute panel discussion next Wednesday called At the Corner of Rail and Broad: Connecting the New Rail Park to North Broad, Neighborhoods and Center City.

He will be joined by Matt Pestronk of Post Brothers, Rob Zuritsky of Parkway Corp. and Patrick Cullina, a landscape designer who was a founding vice president of horticulture and park operations for New York’s High Line. I got a chance to talk with Garden and get to know a little more about him and his work shepherding the project to convert the old Reading Viaduct into Philadelphia’s own version of the High Line.

Philadelphia Business Journal: Tell me a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up?

Garden: Detroit. I did my first 20 years in Detroit. I moved to New York for the next 20 years. And then I moved to Philadelphia in 2005.

Why did you move to Philadelphia?

New York had changed and my profession had changed. I was an architectural antique dealer. By 2000 to 2001, the whole antique market was collapsing. Decorating and collecting are subject to fashion and fads.

What did you do after that?

I got into real estate in New York doing some smaller projects and got a taste for it. I moved to Colorado for a couple of years but wanted to move back to the East Coast and picked to Philadelphia. I was really drawn to the intimacy of the city. New York has its grandeur but Philadelphia has its intimacy.

What do you do now?

I do mostly residential work and work with developers on land or converting commercial to residential. Most of my development work is in Northern Liberties, Southeast Kensington and Fishtown.

From our Partners

When and why did you get involved with the rail park?

It was 2011 and a friend invited me to a Design Philadelphia opening party event that was adjacent to the viaduct and focused on the rail park concept. I was familiar with High Line in New York and Mayor Nutter was there talking about the creative economy, quality of life in Philadelphia, recreation and health. It was inspiring. I signed up for a tour of the project and was smitten with it.

What has your involvement been?

Before fundraising, there was awareness-raising. The project from a logistical perspective touches on many areas. We’ve been partnering with Center City District on what is the first quarter-mile section. It’s design, engineered and shovel ready. We’re applying for RACP money and hope to get that in the latest round. It will cost $8.6 million for that quarter mile. There’s also some nitty-gritty stuff besides funding raising and garnering support. SEPTA owns the property and it needs to be leased to the city parks and rec and we’re dealing with that.

What is the cost to have the entire three miles completed?

$100 million [estimated.]

When will work begin on the first phase?

We are hoping it will go out to bid this year and break ground next year. In my mind, it’s a 10-year project.

What sort of impact do you think a park like this will have?

There’s a lot of success to point to different rail park projects around the world and the positive economic impact from them. It’s not a development driven project. It speaks to so many different areas of life, health, recreation. It also funnels 12 different neighborhoods down to Center City. The site is extraordinary. The High Line has two tracks and most of this is four tracks. There will be room for biking, running, maybe community gardens.

What do you think this project will do for the city?

Using the High Line as a reference, it did two significant things. About $5 billion in real estate development is directly connected to the development of the High Line. Even if we achieve one-tenth of that it’s a powerful impact. You spur development at the same time you spur walkability and a sense of place that so needs to be expanded into Center City’s adjacent neighborhoods.

What will you do once it’s built out?

The ultimate goal is to have cultural and educational programming for it. We want to be stewards of the project.

Image via Mo Manklang

Project

Friends of the Rail Park

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