The skyline in Philadelphia is about to get a drastic makeover. In early March, Drexel University announced its partnership with developer Brandywine Realty Trust to transform 14 acres near the school into a business innovation hub called Schuylkill Yards.
The 20-year, $3.5 billion plan will stretch the presence of Drexel University and neighboring University of Pennsylvania east toward 30th Street Station (the country’s third busiest passenger rail station) and the Schuylkill River. After the project is completed, West Philadelphia will physically and visually feel a part of Center City Philadelphia, from the ease of transportation between the subway and train station to the high rises linking the skylines.
However, this development isn’t exactly for Drexel’s campus. Instead, the University is investing in the economic development of Philadelphia by creating a haven of mixed-use real estate. According to the plans, Drexel and Brandywine intend to dedicate 55% of the space to offices, and the rest will include educational facilities, retail, cultural venues, residences, and a public park reminiscent of Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.
The first phase of the project will center on the creation of Drexel Square, the park going in directly across from the train station that will invite visitors to explore University City. Work will begin later this year on the park and JFK Boulevard west of the train station to create a pedestrian-friendly environment. Early next year, renovation work will begin on the former The Evening Bulletin building beside the park, now called One Drexel Plaza. By early 2018, construction will start on the first new structure of the development: a 700,000-square-foot office building with street-level retail, backing on to the rail lines.
SHoP Architects were tapped to design the initial plans for the area. West8 architects is planning the landscape for the newly conceived plans.
The location of the development is actually inside the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, which was one of five locations across the country designated as ‘preference points’ for economic improvement by President Barack Obama. According to Shared Prosperity Philadelphia, the zone is a roughly two-mile area that includes 35,000 residents with a poverty rate of 50% and an unemployment rate of 13.9%, compared to the city's rates of 26.9% and 9.6%, respectively.
As a designated Promise Zone, businesses and residents will receive tax benefits to help spur economic growth in the area. Drexel University, which is located right inside the Promise Zone, actually helped create the application Philadelphia sent to the White House for consideration.
According to John Fry, president of Drexel University, he felt Brandywine Realty Trust has a lot of skin in the game around Philadelphia's growth considering their recent developments in the area, including Cira Centre and One Commerce Square.
"We selected them as master developer because of their nationally recognized expertise and financial capacity, and also their deep understanding of the project’s potential impact on Philadelphia. Schuylkill Yards is more than a large-scale development project; it will be the heart of America’s next great urban innovation district," said Fry.
With this expansive project, Drexel and Brandywine have said they want to create pathways for residents to take part in the employment and business opportunities that will result in the development of Schuylkill Yards. Fry also commented that he hopes the development will re-imagine the Schuylkill River as a focal point instead of a dividing line in for the city.