PhillyDeals: U. of Delaware cancels data center/power plant

The proposed $1 billion-plus data center and power plant. Delaware's political and business community had endorsed the campus project.
The proposed $1 billion-plus data center and power plant. Delaware's political and business community had endorsed the campus project.
Posted: July 12, 2014

The University of Delaware on Thursday canceled its agreement with Paoli-based Data Centers L.L.C., killing the state-backed $1 billion-plus plan to build a corporate data center and natural gas plant on campus.

A committee of UD officials and professors had unanimously voted against the project.

Profs and managers on the "working group" that UD president Patrick Harker asked to review the proposal "concluded that the proposed facility, which included a 279-megawatt co-generation power plant, is not consistent with a first-class science and technology campus and high-quality development to which UD is committed," the university said in a statement

With Gov. Jack Markell and the state's business and political establishment backing the plant, Harker had signed an initial agreement inviting the company on campus. But worried neighbors were joined by unanimous opposition among the faculty senate, which questioned why a big natural gas-burning facility should locate on a campus that had agreed to reduce its reliance on carbon fuels.

Data Centers boss Eugene Kern didn't immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages to his Paoli office. Both State Sen. Harris McDowell (D., North Wilmington) and a spokesman for Markell told me they hoped UD could find some other employer to fill the site.

"At the end of the day, there was a genuine alignment of interests: those of the Newark community, the University of Delaware, and a clean and healthy environment," professor Thomas M. Powers, director of the school's Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy, told me.

What's Plan B? Harker said he has raised funds for a cybersecurity center to join the health-professional education, electric-car, and fuel-cell facilities on the 271-acre property.

No opposition

In 2011, Brandywine Property Trust bought 1919 Market St., "one of the central business district's most desirable development sites," as Timothy B. Monahan, of tenant rep Savills Studley, puts it in a new report, "Philadelphia's Trophy Office Market."

The location is still a fenced, grassy field, amid the city's busiest office canyon, and two blocks from bustling Rittenhouse Square.

Is this good for the city, where Brandywine controls three-quarters of the best available office space, by Monahan's estimate?

It's smart for the landlord, Monahan wrote: "This purchase allows Brandywine to control another key place on the board and eliminates the opposition from seeking to develop competing office space along this key office corridor."

Brandywine has said it plans to build apartments and stores on the site to complement its offices across the street and around the corner.

"A residential project is still planned with an anticipated commencement for fall 2014," said Brandywine spokeswoman Marge Boccuti.

Don't come in

Pennsylvania state agencies can save money by working from home, and using modern telecom and computing tools, said Eugene DePasquale, the state's elected auditor general.

At least it has worked for him: DePasquale's yearly budget has fallen to $42 million, from $51 million in 2008, including more than $1.2 million in savings in the last year.

The AG's recent cuts included reducing the number of cars his office operates by nearly two-thirds, to 83; shutting the New Castle and Strawberry Square (Harrisburg satellite) offices and Harrisburg-leased parking spaces; moving the Scranton office into a government building from leased private space; and "downsizing" the Erie and Pittsburgh offices.

"We shifted from PeopleSoft into the cloud," said DePasquale, taking advantage of the state's secured Microsoft-based SAP shared services, and backed by servers at Reading-based Omega Systems. The new arrangement supports electronic transmission of audits to reduce paper from auditors working at home, via secured WiFi hot spots.

Result: "We're much more mobile on a larger scale," DePasquale told me.

Who watches the watchers?

"Each audit now has a certain amount of budgeted hours. We determine if they've completed their audit in appropriate hours," DePasquale said.

Would this kind of reorganization scale for other government agencies?

"Any agency where you have people spending a lot of time in the field, this could absolutely be replicated," the auditor general concluded.

215-854-5194 @PhillyJoeD

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