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Dreaming Big at 30th Street

What’s in store at Philly’s busiest transit hub? (Besides a constant running conversation about the futility of the Phils.) We’re one step closer to finding out, as work on a joint master plan that could fill in the last pieces of University City’s jigsaw is underway.

The story originates with three of the area’s biggest players—Amtrak, Drexel, and Brandywine Realty Trust—coming together to align their visions for the future, as Amtrak’s chief of corridor development, Bob LaCroix, tells us. As Drexel develops its Innovation Neighborhood and Brandywine charges on with Cira Centre, development at and around 30th Street Station—including air rights to the 85 acres of rail yards next to it (that way you can fly drones over the trains)—could be the unifying factor in the neighborhood. That’s why the big three have just announced the team to develop their master plan and explore what’s possible: Skidmore Owings & Merrill will lead the process in tandem with Parsons Brinckerhoff, OLIN, and HR&A Advisors.

Aerial view of the 30th Street precinct, which lies between 34th, Walnut, and the Schuylkill. Bob says Amtrak has learned how to modulate the development process from its past work in this field, like the massive Hudson Yards over New York’s Penn Station rails and Burnham Place next to DC’s Union Station. SOM, too, brings its experience from the redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station, the biggest public transit project in progress in the country. What makes Philly different, says Bob, is the number of stakeholders involved: along with SOM et al., a Coordinating Committee will guide the master plan along. Penn, SEPTA, CSX, NJ Transit, PennDOT, PIDC, University City District, and the Schuylkill River Development Corp will fill the roles of committee members alongside the big three partners.

The planning process should last about two years—and with good reason: they’re looking at a long-term development lasting over multiple cycles, a transformation that could take place over 25 to 30 years. Bob speculates that the potential for a big mixed-use project could produce a brand new transit-centered neighborhood in the spirit of DC’s NoMa (pictured). But before that bridge is crossed, Amtrak and company will work with all partners and invite public comment to guarantee a common achievable vision. (And, if everyone insists, a catchy name. We nominate RAMa/WAMA—right around Market/West of the Art Museum area.)