Re-Imagining Independence Part III

USA250: Turning our vision into reality

(Photo Left) A cohesive Independence Park experience could invigorate tourism as the Centennial Exposition did in 1876. 

In the first part of our three-part series, “Re-Imagining Independence,” we laid out the economic argument for investing public and private dollars in building an 8-acre cap over I-95 between Walnut and Market Streets. A plan to build a Colonial-era village on the cap situated just a stone’s throw from a Colonial-era seaport on the water. The goal: transforming the one-day check-the-box experience of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell into a two-day immersive historical experience.

In Part II, we took you on a re-imagined tour of Independence Park that would transport visitors to this Colonial landscape via aerial tram — the Independence Skywalker —high above Market Street from the Independence Visitors Center to the Colonial Village/Seaport.

Today, we tell you how this vision could be executed.

Let’s begin with a history lesson. In 1866, a professor of math from Wabash College (Ind.) came up with the idea for a World Expo in Philadelphia to celebrate our nation’s centennial. The Franklin Institute led the effort and convinced City Council to donate land in Fairmount Park. In 1870, City Council passed the enabling legislation for hosting the Centennial Exposition in 1876. City Council and the PA General Assembly tasked its U.S. Congressional delegation to create a U.S. Centennial Commission, which was legislated into existence in 1871.

More than 200 buildings were constructed within the Exposition’s grounds, which were surrounded by a fence nearly three miles long. There were five main buildings in the exhibition. They were the Main Exhibition Building, Memorial Hall, Machinery Hall, Agricultural Hall, and Horticultural Hall. Apart from these buildings, there were separate buildings for state, federal, foreign, corporate, and public comfort buildings. This strategy of numerous buildings in one exposition set it apart from the previous fairs around the world that relied exclusively on having one or a few large buildings.

 On the Expo’s highest attendance date, a quarter million people came through the gates on Pennsylvania Day, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. The final month of the Exposition, had an average daily attendance of 115,000. By the time the Exposition ended its 7-month run on November 10, a total of 10,164,489 had visited the fair. To this day, Memorial Hall, built to house the Expo’s art exhibits, stands in Fairmount Park as a testament to the impact of the Centennial on our city.

The same building blocks that allowed the vision of an international exposition to become a reality nearly 150 years ago are again coming into place. Late last year, the U.S. Congress created the United States Semi-quincentennial Commission with 33 members, 24 of which are appointed by Congress and nine serving ex officio.   The organizing body is USA250 whose website proclaims: “USA250 draws particular inspiration from the Centennial International Exposition of 1876, which brought together a fractured, post-Civil War nation and attracted 10 million visitors — nearly 1 in 4 Americans at the time — to the United States’ first official World’s Fair. The Centennial not only marked our 100th anniversary, but more broadly it engaged the world around the leading artistic, commercial, and agricultural advancements of that era. USA250 adapts these concepts to today’s technologies and opportunities.”

So, let’s use USA250 to transform the nation’s experience of its history’s birthplace from the ho-hum experience it is today to a memory that our visitors can keep with them for a lifetime. The Independence Skywalker, Colonial Village and Seaport should not just be the highlight of the USA250 celebration it should be USA250.

Note that Commission member, David L. Cohen, Comcast NBCUniversal’s Senior Vice President and go-to guy for all things big in this town, attended the inaugural gathering of commission members. Good thing. Universal theme parks have built a New York City-scape in Dubai, a Port of Entry in Orlando, and a Lost World in Singapore. Oh yeah, they also build an aerial tram, Kongfrontation, for Universal Orlando. Who better to build our Colonial Village/Seaport.

We will be submitting this three part series to the Daily News in response to their requests for proposals for re-imagining Independence Park. We’ve got eight years. The clock is ticking.





Re-Imagining Independence Part III

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