Philadelphia’s next large-scale redevelopment project kicked off today with the official groundbreaking of Schuylkill Yards. Phase 1 of the $3.5 billion “innovation district,” a partnership between Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust, will begin with the construction of Drexel Square, a 1.3 acre community park built on top of a parking lot adjacent to the former offices and production plant of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin at 30th and Market Streets. Demolition of the parking lot is already underway.
At the opening ceremony for the groundbreaking of the ambitious, multi-phase development, John Fry, president of Drexel University, said,“We envision a world class innovation district where researchers, start ups, and established companies come together to collaborate, to create, and drive Philadelphia’s future economy.”
Mayor Jim Kenney pointed out the immediate, transformative economic potential of the project, stating “Schyulkill Yards is one of the three sites we highlighted in our proposal to Amazon for making Philadelphia the home of their second headquarters. Located in University City, a world-class innovation neighborhood, adjacent to downtown, surrounded by top-ranking universities that continue to produce top talent, and entered by the third busiest train station in the nation, this site has everything Amazon is looking for.”
When complete, Drexel Square, designed by SHoP Architects and West 8, architects of the Schuylkill Yards master plan, will feature a 12,064 square-foot elliptical lawn with access point from all sides, a network of granite paving and seat edges, and a small urban oasis at the Market Street gateway to University City. The park will be filled with raised planter beds under the canopy of 30 Dawn Redwood trees and fitted with 60-foot light poles.
Drexel Square will be the centerpiece of roughly 6.5 acres of public green space and streetscape improvements planned for Schuylkill Yards. Major renovations to the former Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Building aka One Drexel Plaza, the construction of two mixed use towers at 3003 and 3025 JFK Boulevard, and the overall development of 4.6 acres of educational, entrepreneurial, and research facilities are included in plans for Phase I. Drexel University and Brandywine Realty anticipates the evolution of Schuylkill Yards to take place over a gradual period of 15-20 years.
In addition to building the billion-dollar megaproject, Brandywine Realty has committed to implementing a $5.6 million neighborhood engagement and investment program geared towards the surrounding West Philadelphia communities immediately impacted by the project.
“Schuylkill Yards will be an inclusive-growth development that will open doors and create opportunities for residents in all of our surrounding neighborhoods. Brandywine’s neighborhood engagement initiative is designed to support local and minority-owned businesses, employ local workers, provide job training, and preserve and add to the existing housing stock at all income levels,” said Fry.
The inclusionary program will focus on job creation, affordable housing, small business development, and revitalizing underused building stock and economically-depressed commercial corridors with capital investment.
Mayor Kenny expressed his excitement over the program and emphasized the importance of balancing redevelopment with inclusive neighborhood investment. “Building this project will expand the opportunities to many Philadelphians in need of jobs that pay families sustaining wages and provide them with the security of affordable, permanent housing,’ said Kenney. Brandywine worked with local community groups to find out how best they could address the most pressing issues through this project and they have a great blueprint in place to make a real difference.”