The Developing State of University City

Monday, December 8, 2014

If you've looked west from Center City across the river, it's hard to miss the growing University City skyline. There's now Evo near the Cira Centre; a 25-story mixed-use tower going up at 38th & Chestnut; and The Study, a new 10-story hotel is going up at 33rd & Chestnut; next to Chestnut Square, the 861-bed Drexel building recently finished at 32nd & Chestnut. 

That's just to name a few.  Last year, the biggest change in University City was a spike in the amount of private investment. This year, according to the State of University City 2014/2015 report, released by the University City District, it's more investment. So much so, it's leading the city, with 82% of all office construction in the region taking place in UC. It's no surprise that the cover to their report featured a crane.

“I think the biggest story has to be the scale of the new residential construction here,” said Seth Budick of UCD, “which will really change the face of 'downtown University City' creating an even more vibrant core, and which is a response to the ongoing growth in employment and university enrollment, and the desire for close proximity between work and home.”

Big development has been roaring in University City like it was the 1920s. In the past five years, 9.99 million square feet of real estate has been developed in the neighborhood, around a  $4.5B investment, according to the report. And of the 27 regional real estate submarkets, University City has the highest office occupancy rate at 96%.

“From venture-backed startups to clinical practices to international headquarters,” writes Matt Bergheiser, UCD executive director, in the report, “University City real estate is brimming with the underpinnings of a diverse, dynamic economy—local in footprint, global in reach and impact.”

This year's numbers show a dynamic leap in University City just over the past few years when it comes to housing and investment. In 2013, less than $200M worth of projects funded through private investment had been finished. By 2016, that figure is expected to climb over $1B. Meanwhile, last year there were 1,849 units available for housing, versus a projected more than 3,900 by 2016. That's almost double the number. It's safe to say then, this area is growing faster than any other in the city. This year's report is dominated by plans for upcoming real estate projects. Then there's the pedestrian traffic all the small businesses and parklets are realizing, with numbers that rival Center City pedestrian traffic at Broad & Walnut.

With this kind of ongoing investment in real estate development, one wonders if fifty years from now University City may have as many high-rises as Center City. Next year, look for UCD to roll out plans for transforming the 40th Street Portal into a sustainable green space where trolleys go too, something that will make University City, and other points west of Center City even more attractive.

Lou Mancinelli

View "The Developing State of U City" at