Already on Market Street are the Ben Franklin Technology Center of Southeastern Pennsylvania, LibertyNet, Strategic Management Group, and Biosyn. Those organizations and companies, along with many others, are tenants in buildings owned by the University City Science Center.
The Science Center, founded in 1963 and owned by 30 local colleges and universities, is an urban research park that helps companies get their start. About 140 technology businesses or organizations are now operating at the Science Center. It also owns or manages most of the office buildings on Market Street between 34th and 38th Streets.
Although organizers of the Avenue of Technology said the avenue stretches from 30th Street Station westward, most of the technology companies are in the four blocks taken up by the Science Center. Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania are called anchors of the avenue by organizers, but Penn's presence is only in office and laboratory space in the Science Center.
While many information technology and biotechnology companies, such as Reality Online Inc. and Centocor Inc., have gotten their start at the Science Center, many have moved their offices to suburban corporate parks along Route 202 in Chester County as they have expanded.
``If Market Street is the `avenue' of technology, then Route 202 is the `highway' of technology,'' said Doug Alexander, a partner at Internet Capital Group, a Wayne venture firm. Alexander was the chief executive of Reality Online when the software company moved out of the Science Center in 1992 to offices in King of Prussia.
The initiative to name the area the Avenue of Technology was spearheaded by the Science Center, the University City District, Drexel, Penn, and the Institute for Scientific Information. The idea was to create a theme for the street similar to that for the Avenue of the Arts on Broad Street.
Despite the new name, most Philadelphians probably don't think of Market Street as another Silicon Valley. Not all of the tenants on the street are technology companies. For example, the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools at 3600 Market St. provides a certification program for nurses trained and licensed outside of the United States. The Physical Education Athletic Center, home of the Drexel Dragons basketball team, is on the Avenue of Technology, as is the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a taste and smell research institute.
All that distinguishes the street as the Avenue of Technology are turquoise-and-black lightpost banners that run from 34th Street to 38th Street. Organizers limited the banners to that area because of a lack of funds and because Drexel University wanted to keep its own banners hung around its campus buildings on Market Street.
Science Center president and chief executive Jill Felix said she realizes the Avenue of Technology does not look like a high-tech district, primarily because many of the office buildings on Market Street were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. Felix said she wants to change the image by creating an architecturally appealing structure described as the ``port of technology.''
The 130,000-square-foot building has been talked about for years, and Felix plans to break ground for it on the northwest corner of 36th and Market Streets in June. It would have laboratory space with chemical hoods, sinks and gas lines for biotechnology companies, and a T-1 line for fast Internet connections for technology companies, Felix said.
The port of technology will be built on one of the 21 sites approved as part of the Keystone Opportunity Zone on Market Street. State and local taxes will be waived for 12 years for employers and residents doing business or living in each zone. Included in the waived taxes is Philadelphia's city wage tax, which many businesses cite as one of the primary reasons for moving out of the city.
``We've got to be able to attract employment to University City . . ., and the Avenue of Technology will help us get that message out,'' Felix said.
By granting a tax-free status and actively promoting the area, the Avenue of Technology project is a move in the right direction toward attracting and keeping companies in Philadelphia, said Rob McCord, president and chief executive of the Eastern Technology Council, a Wayne networking and lobbying organization for technology companies.
Businesses locate where they can recruit qualified high-tech workers, McCord said. And the more workers the avenue can bring into the area, the more companies will want to stay, he said.
The initiative extends beyond giving the area a new name. A high-tech job fair at Drexel University is in the works, a Web site promoting the area is being developed, and daytime technology programs for the public are being planned, said Paul Steinke, executive director of the University City special-services district.
Although the Avenue of Technology may not have the recognition that the Avenue of the Arts does, Steinke said the street already has a number of technology companies upon which to build. The Avenue of Arts concept, he said, was suggested more than 25 years ago when only the Academy of Music and the Shubert Theater were operating on Broad Street, and has been built up from those focal points.
``[The Avenue of Technology concept] is a way to improve the image of the Market Street corridor by pointing out the fact that we have a couple of major research universities as well as a number of high-tech companies that are here and thriving,'' Steinke said.