Despite the close proximity of Drexel University and Penn, the two institutions look to develop West Philadelphia as friends, not foes.
While Drexel and Penn have big plans for the future, both institutions are working cooperatively — but independently — to develop West Philadelphia.
“We don’t decide land allocation jointly,” Drexel Vice President of University Facilities Robert Francis said. “Each institution has its own property, and each institution has its own master plan. The cooperation starts there because we do consult each other on the master plans.”
On Dec. 22, Drexel released its master plan for expansion and redevelopment. Nearing the end of its 2007-2012 plan, it now looks forward to the next five years.
Drexel President John Fry — former Executive Vice President at Penn — has set several goals for his university, which include improving research, student life, innovation and academic quality.
Among other plans, Drexel looks to develop its College of Medicine, build an apartment complex on Chestnut Street and establish new engineering labs for its students.
The university also hopes to provide more vegetation to the area with the creation of a small park between two of its buildings, an area that is currently occupied by a parking lot.
Projects concerning the development of pedestrian and bike paths have also been under review. In addition, the university plans to build a high-rise building for retail between 30th Street and Center City.
According to Francis, current construction is worth $300 million. The university expects to spend approximately $500 million in projects over the next five years, he said.
“It’s important in a city where there’s not a lot of construction and development going on right now,” Francis added.
During his time at Penn, Fry took on the responsibility of integrating Penn with the surrounding West Philadelphia community.
In a 2002 interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Fry said one of his proudest accomplishments at Penn was “taking significant steps to expand the envelope of the campus from a physical standpoint so the University over the next couple of decades [could] continue to expand in a rational way.”
Just as Fry envisioned, Penn continues to grow and redevelop.
In 2007, Penn acquired 24 acres of land — located between campus and the Central Business District — from the United States Post Office and began work on a 30-year plan called Penn Connects. Penn Connects was established not only to expand the University, but also to develop areas on the periphery of campus.
The first phase of the plan — implemented between 2006 and 2010 — included the design plans of Penn Park and the development of over 4.8 million gross square feet.
The second phase, which began this year, includes the Jan. 9 opening of Golkin Hall at Penn’s Law School as well as construction on the Singh Center for Nanotechnology.
As Penn continues to expand, administrators hope to remain sensitive to the outside community.
“It’s important to have dialogue,” Executive Director of Public Affairs Anthony Sorrentino said.
Penn and Drexel meet roughly a dozen times every year, according to Anne Papageorge, Penn’s Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate Services. Meetings address topics such as traffic control, safety within the community and building plans.
“We know what they’re building. We sort of need to help each other out,” Facilities and Real Estate Services Principal Planner Mark Kocent said. Kocent works with Drexel on campus planning in relation to the Penn Connects plan.
“We see the benefit of that,” Papageorge said. “We are coordinating our efforts rather than stepping on each other’s toes.”
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