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What Will The Retail Portion Of University City's Development Boom Look Like?

With the next phases of life sciences developments Schuylkill Yards, uCity Square and University Place all under construction, there will soon be a wave of new lab space to meet heavy demand in University City. Multifamily developments continue to go up with some regularity in the neighborhood, too.

One other element will need to be included to round out the area's next iteration.

View Dynamic Glass' Brian Klansky, Wexford Science + Technology's Pete Cramer, Silverstein Properties' Jason Kaufman and University Place Associates' Anthony Maher

If all the new development brings in the new workers and residents anticipated, more retail will need to be built to service them, panelists at Bisnow's University City Update event on July 22 agreed.

"All the developers [in the area] are looking at retail as an amenity extension," Silverstein Properties Managing Director Jason Kaufman said at the event. "And that's going to be really important, understanding that these folks work hellishly long hours, and they want easy conveniences in close proximity."

At 3.0 University Place, where Silverstein and Cantor Fitzgerald jointly own a 90% equity stake, 33K SF of ground-floor retail is planned, with Fulton Bank having already signed a lease and a potential food hall among the possible uses to fill the rest. The 4101 Market St. project will sit in close proximity to a grocery store and movie theater, along with several restaurants.

Brandywine Realty Trust also plans to include 9K SF of ground-floor retail in Schuylkill Yards' next phase, in addition to life sciences and residential space. The joint venture of Wexford Science + Technology and Ventas is including a restaurant on the ground floor of One uCity Square.

As a neighborhood filled with students on top of the future occupants of the forthcoming life sciences developments, University City's ability to sustain food and beverage retail was unquestioned by panelists. For the area to reach its full potential, however, more than restaurants will be needed.

HDR's Elizabeth Mahon, Brandywine Realty Trust's Paul Commito, University of Pennsylvania's Anne Papageorge and Alterra Property Group's Mark Cartella

"We want to create environments where people want to live," University of Pennsylvania Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate Anne Papageorge said. "That means safety, that means having supermarkets and theaters; it means having all of the amenities that people look for in their neighborhoods."

One type of retail that does not yet have a presence in University City is big-box retail, even scaled-down versions like the small-format Target stores that have popped up in multiple neighborhoods in Philadelphia and around the country in recent years, Alterra Property Group Vice President of Development Mark Cartella said.

"I think [big-box retail] would serve the community very well," Cartella said. "And we're in active conversations to help try to meet some of those demands."

Papageorge also mentioned urban-format big-box retail as a missing piece for keeping University City residents and workers spending leisure time and money in the neighborhood. The apparel sector is also underrepresented in the neighborhood now, especially after pandemic-induced closures among retail tenants at UPenn-owned properties, Papageorge said.

The hope among University City stakeholders is that the promise of incoming development will lure back some retailers to fill current vacancies before new construction comes online.

"I believe that there is going to be a tremendous comeback on retail in both Center City and University City, that it's going to accelerate pretty incredibly," Brandywine Senior Vice President of Development Paul Commito said. "Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic, there are plenty of opportunities out there."