PhillyDeals: Landlords unite on master plan to develop UCity

Posted: May 29, 2014

University City landlords, led by Amtrak, Drexel University, and Brandywine Realty Trust (builder of the nearby Cira towers), have picked Chicago-based multinational architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill L.L.P. to draw a new master plan they hope

will lure construction to the 85-acre rail yards next to 30th Street Station and

its nest of highway, street, and mass-transit links.

SOM, best known for giant buildings like One World Trade Center in New York and Burj Kalifa in Dubai, is drafting a similar plan for New York's Penn Station and its neighborhood. Amtrak also has planned major development at its Washington and Denver terminals, among others.

"The Philadelphia site is a bit unique. It's a nice big parcel to work with," and property owners, passenger and freight railroads, and city agencies all have signed on as a group to approve the plan by its 2016 target, said Janet Campbell-Lorenc, senior director of Northeast Corridor business development for Amtrak.

The 30th and Market area will link "Philadelphia's business center with its intellectual heart in University City," Drexel president John Fry said in a statement.

By agreeing on a master plan, the landlords hope they can win government support and taxpayer funding to cover the Amtrak and SEPTA train yards, and for walkways and road ramps that will open the covered space for development, reorienting the neighborhood toward the Schuylkill and Center City, and making it easier for foot, car, bus, train, and airline passengers to speed in and out, said Natalie Shieh, principal officer for Amtrak's 30th Street Station Precinct Development Project.

Defying the expected drop in enrollment at many private colleges, Drexel's Fry is trying to boost Drexel's student population by one-third before 2020, to 34,000, in part by attracting companies that hire Drexel students and graduates to build in the neighborhood, along with hotels, retail and entertainment projects, and more apartments. Drexel also plans an elementary school on the site of the former University City High School, which it is purchasing from the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District.

Besides SOM, the master-planning team will include the New York-based engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which worked on Washington's Amtrak Union Station master plan; OLIN, the Philadelphia- and Los Angeles-based landscape-architecture firm, whose local projects include the City Hall Plaza renovation and the garden outside the new Barnes Foundation museum; and HR&A Advisors, a New York development and energy-use consultant.


Biomeme, a four-person start-up operating out of Evan Malone's NextFab on Washington Avenue, has raised $1.9 million in funding for its DNA- analysis-on-your- smartphone development project, partly from NextFab itself, Malone told me.

Now, Biomeme plans to move to larger quarters - including a lab and manufacturing line - on N3RD Street, the tech hub of start-up companies and independent software developers that has developed around Third and Market Streets in Old City, founders Jesse vanWestrienen and Marc DeJohn said in a statement.

215-854-5194 @PhillyJoeD

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