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Convention Hall may have been demolished, but its 34th Street and Civic Center Boulevard address will soon be home to a new, $232 million clinical building.

The University Health System held a ground-breaking ceremony yesterday evening for the Center for Advanced Medicine, which is expected to open in the spring of 2008.

Held across the street in the plaza of the biomedical research building, the ceremony attracted more than 400 attendees.

The complete patient-care facility will boast 300,000 square feet of clinical space and feature its own lab and imaging centers. The center's clinical departments will deal primarily with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and heart disease.

But the facility's short history is marred by controversy.

The University faced opposition from local preservation and community activists, who found architectural and historical value in the two buildings that formerly occupied the site -- Convention Hall and the Commerce Museum.

An architectural and historical planning firm was hired by the Health System to determine whether the existing buildings could support the planned clinical facilities.

The firm concluded that the buildings were too small and were structurally incapable of supporting the proposed imaging machines. Moreover, underground parking would be unavailable and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning infrastructure would need to be replaced.

Penn alumnus Richard Tyler, who sat on the cultural-resources committee when the site was acquired, was instrumental in guiding Penn through the federal historic-review process that resulted in the demolition of Convention Hall. Although he said there was no feasible way for the existing building to accommodate Penn's vision, he did comment on the site's historical significance.

But there's no turning back now.

Penn's Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, directed by John Glick, will be relocated to the new center. Glick, who has treated cancer patients for 35 years, described the building as a fulfillment of the hopes and aspirations of patients and donors.

Chief of Cardiovascular Medicine Mike Parmacek thinks that the center will be a model to be rivaled due to ample parking and the ability to complete testing and treatment in one building.

"There is no program in the region that will have a facility like this," he said. "This is really going to set the standard for cardiovascular care in the entire Northeast region."

School of Medicine Dean Arthur Rubenstein acted as master of ceremonies and introduced speakers ranging from University President Amy Gutmann to cancer survivor Nancy Hoffman.

Hoffman's 28-year-old daughter, Anne, said her mother came to bring a message of hope.

"I think [the center ] gives a lot more people the benefit of getting better medicine," she said.

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