Schuylkill Yards Project Promises To Change The Face Of University City
The recently announced Schuylkill Yards project signals a dynamic new age in the development of University City. That's why Bisnow is thrilled to present our University City 2016 on March 24 at 7:30am at International House Philadelphia.
With Drexel and Brandywine Realty Trust's announcement of the 14-acre, $3.5B Schuylkill Yards Project, University City's status as a neighborhood on the rise has been cemented.
The ambitious project is set to take two decades to complete, with the goal of creating 5M SF for offices, labs, retail, public space, hotels and more. The ultimate goal is to make Schuylkill Yards an entirely new neighborhood focused on innovation.
The development will reportedly begin with Drexel Square, a planned 1.3-acre park directly across the street from 30th Street Station, scheduled to break ground later this year. It's representative of the project's ambition not just to cultivate business in the area, but to do so in a way that doesn't decrease quality of life for residents.
Matt Bergheiser, CEO of University City District, points to the partnership of Drexel and Brandywine as proof that Schuylkill Yards can keep everyone happy.
"For much of my career, I’ve worked at the intersection of business and community," Matt says. "How do you leverage the private sector to make the public place a better place? Nowhere is that more evident than here, with institutional partners and business partners. When civic virtue meets self-interest, great things happen."
Drexel's ambitions for the area around 30th Street Station have been evident since 2014, and with Schuylkill Yards, it seeks to make a massive impact in matching academic growth with business development—a process Matt sees as crucial to the area's future.
"[University City has] booming universities, booming health systems," Matt says. "But the holy grail for Philadelphia is, how do we take the knowledge being generated at our academic and research institutions and translate it into job-creating business ventures?"
Schuylkill Yards' ambition is to do just that, but a project of such ambition raises questions—namely, can the area around 30th Street Station, bordered by rail yards and highways, sustain an entirely new neighborhood?
"The physical infrastructure and civic infrastructure [in the area] was built for a different era," Matt says. "Some of our streets, particularly at the eastern edge of University City, were designed as highways, to get people out as quickly as possible."
The question, now that development is booming, becomes: how do you slow down traffic, create pedestrian amenities and develop public transit?
This early in development, Brandywine and Drexel are speaking in the broadest possible terms, but to hear them tell it, the Yards will be a green, modern city area that won't displace the impoverished neighborhood of Mantua on the north. The goal is to gentrify an area with as little negative impact as possible.
There's reason to be optimistic about such ambitions. Everyone involved seems to want the same thing—to create a vibrant community where University City's academic past and present can blend with its commercial future.
"Entrepreneurs and firms make choices, and increasingly, they choose great places," Matt adds. "When you think holistically about what makes a place competitive, it’s increasingly about quality of life, it’s increasingly about making sure the civic realm and infrastructure is commensurate with the commercial growth going on around you. In that sense, shaping a great place is important to private growth."
University City's growth in the coming years is almost assured—the success of its academic institutions has made sure of that—but Schuylkill Yards represents a massive gamble.