Strategic acquisitions to the east and south of campus and enhancement of its northern and western borders are the mainstays of the Campus Master Plan, University President Judith Rodin announced last week. The plan aims to secure the University's connection to the city and strengthen relations with neighboring institutions, Rodin said. The Civic Center, the parking lot at 33rd and Walnut streets and the land around the 30th Street Post Office are among sites targeted for acquisition to the east and south of campus, Vice President of Facilities Management Art Gravina said. Such purchases could support recreation facilities and laboratories, Gravina said. "The current athletic fields suffer a lot of wear and tear from interscholastic use, and labs get archaic very quickly," he explained. The Civic Center would provide a good location for research laboratories, Gravina said. He said recreation fields to the east of campus could create a "front yard" for the University, replacing the current "industrial zone." Other plans for east and south campus include the improvement of safety and cleanliness and the encouragement of economic development. Rodin pointed to the recent transfer of the Genovo building at 30th and Walnut streets as an example of the type of economic development practice she hopes to continue. Expansion to the east and south "makes geographical sense related to our athletic facilities and residences -- especially Hill House," Rodin added. Gravina said the administration is looking at all facilities to the east and south for acquisition and expansion purposes. "It's like the construction of old grind mills, which were built with an explosion wall," he said. "If and when we have to explode, this is where we want to build out." The last time the University undertook a major expansion project was in the 1960s, when development to the west led to the construction of Superblock. And northern expansion at the time saw Penn take over land along Market Street for what became the University City Science Center. This created a scare that the University would "wipe out the whole neighborhood," said Carol Scheman, vice president for government and community affairs. "We are committed to doing better" this time around, Scheman said. Expansion under the new plans would focus on non-residential areas like the Civic Center and the 30th Street Post Office. The rest of Rodin's proposals involve enhancing, renovating and improving current facilities to the north and west -- not buying new land there. Plans also include upgrading residences on the northern border. The recently acquired Sheraton Hotel at 36th and Chestnut streets will be used as "swing space" during residence renovations across campus. And the development of "Sansom Commons" will create an upscale retail district centered around a new hotel and the Barnes & Noble superstore. On the west end of campus, the aim is to revitalize the area and reconnect Superblock to main campus, Rodin said. "Superblock seems to me, a real missed opportunity for this University," she said last week. "I think we can rectify the error." Plans for a student-oriented "Hamilton Village" in the Superblock area are underway, Gravina said. "High rise living can be OK if there is a sense of community," Gravina added. Ironically, before Superblock was constructed, a collection of Victorian-era homes known as Hamilton Village occupied the space. Safety will be a central issue for planning of the Superblock area, Gravina said. "We are working with Public Safety to make sure we don't design into something that is unsafe, like dark entranceways and extensive shrubbery," he said. With the upcoming move of Public Safety to 40th and Chestnut streets, University Police's station and carriage house on Locust Walk will open up possibilities for a late-night cafe and coffee shop, Gravina added. Beyond Superblock, the University will attempt to revitalize retail west of campus. For service-oriented retail, Rodin said a Special Services District -- with an emphasis on clean, safe and well-lit streets -- at the northwest edge of campus is in the works. She added that she wants to facilitate commercial development on 40th and Market streets and provide incentives for faculty, staff and students to live in neighborhoods immediately west of campus. "We want to work with the city so the area is clean and safe," Gravina said, adding that plans include getting rid of graffiti and cleaning up empty lots. "We're not seeing ourselves as Big Brother," he added. "We want to be a catalyst for discussion among neighborhood groups." Scheman said she is meeting monthly to coordinate with various neighborhood organizations. "I can't claim we've worked with them every day, but our plan is informed by parallel planning by the community," she said. She explained that local residents and the University have similar views on the area's needs -- including improved housing and public schools, economic development and more job opportunities.
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