With the spanking new, 24-acre Penn Park across the street, several hundred business, community and academic leaders and just-plain boosters gathered last week at the World Cafe in Philadelphia for a pep rally to celebrate progress in University City.
The occasion was the launch of the University City District's (UCD) annual report, The State of University City 2011, which draws an upbeat picture of economic development, commercial vitality, residential growth and sustainability in the once-beleaguered section of West Philadelphia.
John Fry, president of Drexel University, was a University of Pennsylvania official 14 years ago when UCD was established to make the neighborhood's then-mean streets clean and safe. Today, he says, the 2.4-square-mile section of West Philadelphia has succeeded beyond all expectations.
Few places in the country equal University City's “intellectual eco-system” and quality of life, says Fry. Now, he adds, it's up to the boosters to fully leverage those assets and spread the word.
Despite the recession, more than $2 billion in real estate projects has recently been completed or is under construction, UCD says, including the $46.5 million Penn Park and the $250 million makeover of the former post office at 30th Street. Upcoming projects include the $50 million hotel underway at 4109 Walnut St., billed as one of Philadelphia’s largest current construction projects, Penn's Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology at 3200 Walnut St. and the just-announced, seven-story research tower at 3601 Spruce St., the Wistar Institute's first major addition in nearly 40 years.
UCD also reports more than six-dozen new businesses in University City in the last 18 months, a median price hike of 7 percent in housing and continued population and job growth. And, thanks in large part to the energy-buying habits of Penn and Drexel, University City has already exceeded the city’s 2015 sustainability targets, with 24 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources.