Bounded by the cement and steel of urban traffic ways, Penn Park — which opened to fireworks and celebration on Sept. 15 — marks a historical development in Penn’s eastward expansion.
Students, athletes, benefactors and enthusiasts alike gathered under a tent in the open spaces between the fields to hear President Amy Gutmann and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s remarks, as well as to enjoy free snacks and music in the open city air.
In the spirit of thanks, Gutmann said “the road to celebration [that evening] was paved with generosity and hard work.” She found that Penn’s students were a “true source of inspiration” in constructing Penn Park.
Nutter, a 1979 Wharton graduate, saw the park as a “tremendous partnership” between the school and the city, and commended Gutmann’s transformative “vision.”
Having celebrated the park’s pledge to sustainability, Nutter and Gutmann, among other University and city officials, drove their shovels into the earth to plant Penn Park’s “final tree.”
Penn Park will not be limited Penn athletes or students, but will act as a bridge between the University and the city, Gutmann said.
The park is one of many projects that Penn has embarked upon on the east side of campus. “Moving east and redeveloping land … allows Penn to create a new marketplace of activity,” Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli wrote in an email.
Michael McGettigan, the owner of Trophy Bikes University City, is excited to see the presence of the park transform Walnut Street into a “true city street.”
Just as McGettigan hopes his business will be positively affected by the park, other local entrepreneurs were excited about the increased traffic flow. Mariel Wega, the manager at Tria Wine Room, explained that her business has just launched a “happier hour,” in the hopes that along their path to the park “more people will stop in for a glass of wine.”
According to Carnaroli, Penn has been working on this urban strategy since 2000, redeveloping a former General Electric facility on the 3100 block of Walnut Street into the Left Bank apartments, retail stores and restaurants. On Walnut Street’s 3000 block, a former plumbing supplier was converted into World Cafe Live and the offices of WXPN in 2004.
“It really filled in what was once industrial wasteland and a parking lot with the most attractive twenty-four acres any city or university could hope to have in that place,” Gutmann said.
“We have more plans for revitalizing the Walnut Street corridor,” she elaborated, discussing future plans. According to her, the completion of the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology near 32nd and Walnut streets will replace an empty parking lot with a new research facility.
“Penn Park is rounding out the land use planning for this area,” Carnaroli wrote. It adds “vitality and vibrancy” to the space between Center City and Penn’s campus, he added.
Penn’s development activity on the eastern side of campus makes West Philadelphia “attractive as a place to reside,” according to Carnaroli. Still, Gutmann and Carnaroli both noted that current plans for expansion do not include moving on to the east side of the Schuykill River.
For students and student-athletes alike, the park is a new outdoor recreational space that has been eagerly awaited.
College sophomore Courtney Gans hoped to use the park for jogging or studying on days when the weather was more cooperative than that of yesterday’s chilly festivities.
College junior Maddie Poplawski, a women’s lacrosse player who assisted Gutmann in the ribbon cutting ceremony, exclaimed that it was “great to see all of the support we have for the athletics program” at Penn.
Co-President of Penn Club Baseball and Wharton senior Patrick Miller explained that for the past three years of his career at Penn, the team has had to practice inside. Welcoming the new facilities, his Co-President and College junior Luke Poethig added that the new fields, in such proximity to campus, “brought a whole new element to club baseball.”
As a Nursing freshman running track at Penn, Mia Spinelli was excited to come to “a city school “ that had the benefits of providing “a lot of open space.”
The focus on eastward expansion exemplified by Penn Park has not, however, detracted Penn from pursuing a number of projects on the western side.
“We’ve continued to enhance public safety, we’ve improved pedestrian pathways, we’ve made sure the retail offerings in West Philadelphia are maximized, we’ve encouraged home ownership and we’ve promoted West Philadelphia’s increasing cultural attractions,” Gutmann explained.
“Our commitment is more robust than ever to making West Philadelphia a great place for Penn people and all of our West Philadelphia neighbors to enjoy,” she added. “That work is never done.”