Cranes explained: UCD releases new ‘State of University City’ report

Thursday, October 16, 2014

StateofUCThese days it seems like you can’t walk more than a block or two near Penn and Drexel’s campuses without seeing some sort of major construction project. Cranes are becoming about as common around here as coffee shops.

Some 32 building projects have been or will be completed in the area around the universities between last fall and next summer or so, according to the 2014/2015 State of University City report, which was released by the University City District (UCD) yesterday afternoon during a reception at World Cafe Live (3025 Walnut St.). These include about 1.3 million square feet of new building space dedicated to medical and biomedical research, a key field driving development of this part of the city.

The majority of all new office construction in the city is happening in the patch between 38th street to the west, Market street to the north and the Schuylkill River to the east and south.

All of this building and investment has created what doctor-turned-entrepreneur Keith Leaphart, a lifelong Philadelphia resident, called an “ecosystem for ambition” during yesterday’s reception. Leaphart owns the design and print firm Replica Creative, which opened a café amid all the hubbub last year at 3711 Market St.

Residential space is increasing as well. Two new residential high rises, at 36th and Market and 3737 Chestnut, are slated to open next summer and fall respectively. The UCD is forecasting that the number of new apartments will increase 60 percent by 2016. Many of these are aimed at graduate students and millennials, the fastest growing demographic category in the district. 
Residential property values in the UCD area, which includes the area west to 50th Street, south to Woodland Avenue and north to Market/ Spring Garden, have held steady for the past three years at about $325,000, a three-fold increase since 2000, according to the report.

All of this building will likely increase when the 200 acres of asphalt around 30th Street station begin to give way to plans by Drexel and Amtrak. This will include about a dozen acres to extend Drexel’s campus and create what it is calling an “Innovation Neighborhood” designed to attract high-tech businesses. A request for proposals to design a master plan is due at the end of this month and the winner will be announced in December.

But while much of yesterday’s reception was spent extolling the success in this part of the city, little attention was paid to the pressures all of this development puts on surrounding neighborhoods, especially places like Mantua which stands in the shadows of all of those cranes. The UCD’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative has made some progress spreading the wealth to greater West Philadelphia, so far placing about 125 employees in jobs that average $12.13 per hour, according to the report.

By Mike Lyons

View "Cranes Explained" at