Penn to Embark on Ambitious $2 Billion Redevelopment Plan

Fri June 23, 2006 - Northeast Edition

PHILADELPHIA (AP) The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) will embark on an epic riverfront redevelopment project next year that is expected to take more than two decades, cost approximately $2 billion and, ultimately, meld downtown and West Philadelphia into one big, lively city core.

Endorsed by the university trustees on June 15, Penn plans to revitalize 40 acres on the campus’ eastern edge. What is now an eyesore of a site will eventually boast office towers, condos and research centers amid new athletic fields, recreation spaces, shops and restaurants.

There is even talk of an elegant pedestrian bridge spanning the Schuylkill River, which separates the campus from downtown.

“You’ll see Penn’s presence from Center City,” Penn President Amy Gutmann told The Philadelphia Inquirer for June 18 editions. “Now you don’t. Now you just see ugly.”

An estimated $194 million will come out of taxpayers’ pockets for infrastructure such as water and sewer lines and, if built, the footbridge. But the remaining 90 percent of the staggering tab will fall to the university, its health system and private developers.

The linchpin of the project is a 24-acre parcel owned by the U.S. Postal Service. Penn paid $50.6 million for the property, though it will not take possession until March.

Penn and its design firm, Boston-based Sasaki Associates, see it as a fine foundation for dense, mixed-use, downtown-style development despite the rail lines and expressway that hem the parcel.

Unlike some previous Penn projects that were criticized by neighbors for encroaching on residential areas, there has been no audible opposition.

“I don’t see how it will impact us negatively in terms of gentrification and displacement,” said the Rev. Larry Falcon, a leader in the campus watchdog Neighbors Against McPenntrification.

Students have seemed mostly pleased with the plan. In a survey asking what they wanted from the project, approximately 3,000 of them listed housing, outdoor space, restaurants and entertainment venues — all included in the university’s plan.

Although work on some of the fields could begin in the summer of 2007, portions of the retail and residential construction could extend through 2015. Development of the Postal Service parcel is to be finished by 2030.

The riverfront revitalization, which includes two proposed performing arts centers, is only part of Penn’s eastward expansion. Also planned are a new 400-bed residence hall and nanotechnology research center. Penn’s medical school and health system have long-term plans to expand east as well.

The cost of all planned construction: $6.7 billion. Penn will draw, in part, on a forthcoming fundraising campaign and its annual operating budget.