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Thanks to a $46 million expansion project, the now-desolate riverfront land wedged between Walnut and South Street will be transformed into a vibrant green oasis and state-of-the-art athletics facility. Penn Park — the centerpiece of the University’s Eastern expansion project — is now officially under construction.

The University broke ground Friday on the 24-acre development that will house three multipurpose turf fields, 12 tennis courts and a pedestrian walkway by its projected completion in 2011.

At the ground-breaking ceremony, Penn President Amy Gutmann spoke to the significance of Penn Park for the University and for the city of Philadelphia.

“Penn Park will weave the eastern edge of campus into the daily fabric of Center City and will transform campus for generations to come,” she said.

Penn Park will encompass 14 acres purchased from the U.S. Postal Service in 2007 as well as 10 acres the university previously owned.

In addition to increasing campus green space by over 20 percent, Penn Park will act as a physical symbol of Penn’s connection to the city of Philadelphia, which University architect David Hollenberg cited as a primary aim of the park’s design.

It will have pedestrian access from the north via Walnut Street and from the west through the Paley Bridge, making it open for use by the surrounding community.

According to the Athletic Department, the fields will be available for recreational use as well as for scheduled practices. Also, a seasonal air structure will make one field functional year round.

Project director Edward Sidor calls the design “an incredible integration of civil engineering and landscape architecture.” Penn Park will complement the University’s Climate Action Plan by incorporating native trees and grasses and a rainwater storage and recycling system.

At a time when funding for public projects is visibly down, the fact that Penn is able to go forward with such a large scale venture shows, as incoming Chair of Trustees David Cohen said, “Penn is clearly on the move.”

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