Drexel nears purchase of University City High School

Posted: June 11, 2014

IN AN ABOUT-FACE from the passions expressed last week, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell gave her approval yesterday to a step forward in the redevelopment of University City High School.

Council's Rules Committee unanimously passed a zoning bill that would enable the sale of the school and its 14-acre site to Drexel University.

Blackwell softened her tone from the tongue-lashing she gave Drexel's lawyers last week. Defending her constituents, she had accused developers of disregarding community input, but yesterday said that progress had been made.

"This has been an arduous process," she said. "We're still in negotiations with regard to the height and density, parking and possibly some school-related issues. We're not there yet, but we're hoping that by the next time we meet, we'll have these issues resolved so we can move forward."

The school district stands to gain $25 million from the sale of the building. Last week, Council President Darrell Clarke urged the district to complete all its building-sale transactions that are pending.

"The school district has a self-inflicted wound because [it] chose not to take advantage of several lucrative opportunities," he said.

But voices from neighborhood groups like the Powelton Village Civic Association argue that their concerns about height limits for new projects and parking podiums ought not to go unheard.

"This bill is asking for the moon and the stars, and we're just trying to put some reasonable planning principles in place to make sure that we end up with a successful project," said Paul Boni, a lawyer representing Powelton Village.

"It seems to us too far, too much, too fast," he said.

Drexel wants to demolish the school building and replace it with $1 billion worth of residential and commercial buildings. It is also considering reserving some acreage for five years to accommodate construction of a public school.

Peter F. Kelsen, a lawyer representing Drexel, said: "We've been earnestly trying to talk to the community about this as soon as we understood we had the transaction. It's not being rushed. I think the parties worked closely and diligently as we had before to try and reach an agreement."

Kelsen said the district is eyeing to complete the sale by Monday.

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