“Philly is rising,” Josh Kopelman said.
Kopelman, a partner at First Round Capital in University City, spoke at a reception Monday night celebrating the successes of the University City District over the last 15 years.
His sentiment seemed to be shared by many who attended the reception at World Cafe Live on 3025 Walnut Street in celebration of UCD’s 15th year anniversary.
The event was hosted by Penn’s Executive Vice President and Chair of the UCD Board of Directors, Craig Carnaroli, as well as Executive Director of UCD Matt Bergheiser.
Carnaroli gave the opening speech and explained that UCD began as a concept, yet no one knew how it would evolve.
He listed some of the efforts that UCD — an organization promoting growth and development in University City — is focusing on today, including workforce development, community programs and sustainability efforts.
“UCD works because we had the right leaders making the right decisions at the same time,” he said. “The progress and milestones of UCD resulted from forward thinking and risk taking.”
UCD was born in 1997 after a series of crimes and disinvestments in the areas surrounding Penn, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences. Through growth and development, UCD has been able to bring great changes to the region.
“There is a sense that what happens in these 2.4 square miles matters to Philadelphia,” Bergheiser said.
Over the last 15 years, the organization has been striving to make University City a more pedestrian friendly, vibrant and inviting community through the establishment of parklets, music festivals and public art installations.
One of the innovations that UCD is most proud of is The Porch, the new outdoor seating area outside of 30th Street Station.
“It is an inviting front door to the city,” said Bergheiser, who explained that The Porch promotes civic vitality and will be a space to showcase public art.
According to Bergheiser, UCD has helped implement 27 new acres of green space, a 15-percent increase in full service restaurants and 5 million square feet of new construction in the area.
UCD has also instituted projects such as the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative in order to close the gap between people’s skills sets and available jobs in the area. This initiative has helped many young people in West Philadelphia obtain jobs they otherwise could not have imagined acquiring.
Since the establishment of UCD, there has been a 21-percent increase in residents between the ages of 20 and 34. In addition, 54 percent of residents have obtained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, a 41 percent increase since 2000.
“Over the last 15 years, this place has blossomed,” Bergheiser said. “Young professionals and young families have flocked here and new businesses have proliferated.”
UCD felt that no one better represented the idea that new businesses have been successfully growing than First Round Capital’s Kopelman. First Round Capital’s headquarters recently moved to 40th and Locust Streets.
“For Philly to succeed we can’t just start amazing businesses, but we need to retain them here. Our hope is to help play a role in funding companies and keeping them here,” said Kopelman, who graduated from Wharton in 1993.
“I thought the presentation was very well done,” said Mark Bernstein, a resident of the Philadelphia suburbs and chief of staff at Campus Apartments. “It gave me a feeling of excitement about what’s occurred and for what’s to come.”
“Philadelphia and UCD are on the cusp of something special,” Bergheiser concluded. “We imagine a UCD that’s alive with possibility and movement.”