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Massive Drug Rehab Tower Could Be Coming To University City

The former site of a proposed Target store in University City could become home to a 40-plus-story addiction rehabilitation tower, becoming one of the largest such facilities in the nation, as Philly leaders double down on cleaning up longstanding open-air drug markets. 

A rendering of the rehabilitation tower being proposed for a site next to the building formerly known as The International House

New York-based real estate firm and landlord CSC has unveiled a proposal to build a 517K SF tower at 3701 Chestnut St. for a rehab facility, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer

The $300M project would be a Northeast rehab hub, with between 150 and 250 beds, as well as recreation centers, classrooms and open space, all housed in a tower projected to be between 40 and 53 stories tall, according to CSC Managing Director Sal Smeke. The facility would provide inpatient and outpatient services and could treat specific drug-related conditions like the wounds associated with xylazine use, the Inquirer reported.

“We thought that the best possible use is for something that Philadelphia actually needs,” Smeke told the publication. “[There’s] a very, very bad drug problem. No one wants to fix it. Everyone is looking the other way.”

Smeke declined to name CSC's healthcare partner for the building, citing a nondisclosure agreement. 

But CSC’s development proposal describes its probable partner as “the largest stand-alone behavioral health company in the U.S.” According to the Inquirer, that language mirrors the self-description of Acadia Healthcare, a company known locally for operating the Belmont Behavioral Hospital in Philadelphia. The partner listed in CSC’s planning document also operates 253 behavioral healthcare facilities in 38 states and Puerto Rico, the exact number on Acadia’s website.

Public health officials told the Inquirer they were excited by the scale of the proposed project, adding it could make inroads in solving a deeply rooted issue. But developers are aware they could be in for a sales job.

The proposed rehab tower site is next to and shares an address with the historically protected Mason on Chestnut, formerly known as the International House. The Mason is a student housing building also owned by CSC. 

According to the proposal, the facility would be designed to minimize neighborhood disturbance and maximize aesthetics, including curving it away from existing buildings to direct reflected light into a shared courtyard.

The area is mostly occupied by nonpermanent tenants. That, along with the site's distance from most registered community organizations, could help the project's approval chances, according to the Inquirer. 

The nearby University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University haven't commented on the CSC proposal, but the project will need neighborhood support, Smeke said.

​​“We will have to explain to the community how this will pencil out with the students that are around there … if they want to seclude it to only be a rich student area [or] if you really want to have a diversity in the area,” he told the Inquirer.

CSC is seeking city support as well. Council Member Jamie Gauthier, the only council representative who hasn't opposed such facilities in her area, said she has so far logged no opposition to the proposal but wants to see more details. 

Philadelphia is in the middle of a push to stem open-air drug use and voted to bar supervised drug consumption sites from much of the city last year. Mayor Cherelle Parker has also proposed pulling municipal funding from needle exchange programs.

Parker has already implemented several efforts to address an addiction crisis that has swept the city in recent years. So far, her administration has dedicated more than $100M to build a drug treatment center and shelter that can house more than 600 people next to the city’s jail complex, the Inquirer reported.

Other initiatives have run into roadblocks. The Parker administration’s plan for a treatment center in the Fairmount neighborhood met with opposition from area residents.

Philadelphia has about 150 beds for intensive treatment of addiction and other health issues, the Inquirer reported.