Philadelphia Business Journal: The next building boom may be coming here

Friday, October 10, 2014

Natalie Kostelni

It’s University City’s turn to become the hot spot of Philadelphia’s development boom. More than $1 billion is being invested in commercial and residential construction projects in the West Philadelphia neighborhood, marking the first time in decades that so much money and so much development activity has been concentrated there. The projects, once completed over the next few years, promise to transform this portion of West Philadelphia into a vibrant hub. They will also serve as the beginning of a bigger push to link University City with Center City.

Wait a minute! I wrote that in early 2001 and it seems University City has been on a continuum to greatness ever since and perhaps, now more than ever, the neighborhood is hitting its stride as it has not done before. University City has arrived and its connection with Center City continues to strengthen.

“There is an amazing energy and palpable feeling of building the future of Philadelphia’s economy that is unfolding before us,” said Matt Bergheiser, executive director of University City District. “Momentum wins a lot of the time.”

In its most recent annual report, University City District portrays a community that is amid unstoppable momentum. One of the most notable aspects is the sheer volume of construction that is under way.

With more than a handful of construction cranes poking out of the sky and nearly $2 billion in projects in the works, University City has been on a building binge for more than a decade. University City District started in 2009 to keep track of how much construction activity takes place annually in the neighborhood so its figure of $2.4 billion worth of projects that were completed between 2010 and so far this year falls short from what has been done over the last 15 years or so.

It has added a total of 4.8 million square feet of new space during the last four years and another 4.8 million square feet is under construction now, according to the organization’s data. A total of 32 new developments are in various stages of progress and they range from residential, academic, research, office and medical facilities. The biggest drivers are the academic and medical institutions that make up the fabric of University City.


More and bigger, statement making developments are on the drawing board. They include: a master plan for Amtrak’s 30th Street Station and the land around it; Drexel University’s Innovation Neighborhood and its plans for the University City High School; University of Pennsylvania’s South Bank; and the University of Pennsylvania Health System’s new hospital tower. These projects will mean several billion dollars worth of new construction during the next few years.

It’s some of the best kind of development for the region since it focuses on the knowledge industry, which drives so much economic activity and job growth. It’s impact will be felt long term in Philadelphia and regionwide.

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