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Chestnut Square, a project spearheaded by Drexel University and American Campus Communities, will include student housing and new retail businesses. To be located at 32nd, 33rd and Chestnut streets, it is slated to open by September 2013.

Credit: Courtesy of Drexel University

Drexel University’s “Chestnut Square” project ­— a plan to transform an area on Chestnut Street — is now underway.

The $97.6 million project will create a building complex on 32nd and 33rd streets that consists of student housing and retail businesses. It will be completed by September 2013.

Drexel partnered with American Campus Communities, the largest national provider of private student housing. The project will include two eight-story buildings and one 19-story building.

Student housing will occupy the upper levels of the buildings, while the street levels — to be built using glass and limestone — will host approximately 11 storefronts.

The two eight-story buildings will have an open entry corridor leading to the neighboring Drexel’s Creese Student Center.

According to Robert Francis, Drexel’s Vice President of University Facilities, the university chose to partner with American Campus Communities over nine other companies because of the quality of its proposal that was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

The three buildings will offer a total of 869 beds of various unit types.

Options include townhome and apartment style residences, which are not readily available in University City right now, said Jason Wills, Senior Vice President of On-Campus Development at American Campus Communities.

Other features of the development will include a 14,800 square-foot community center and student amenities such as a social lounge with gaming area, fitness center, theater, meeting spaces and laundry facilities.

The retail center of Chestnut Square is expected to see two main food and beverage operations and a business that offers personal services, Francis said. “The interest is very strong at this point from very good operators. High end, boutique concepts are what we are looking for.”

In addition, Chestnut Square will feature other potential establishments such as banks, fast casual restaurants, a coffee concept, a dessert or yogurt concept and a store providing student supplies not available at typical bookstores.

The initial proposal for the project dates back to 2007. “At that point in Drexel’s development, there was not enough retail to support student needs,” Francis said.

The plan was later “modified to add dormitory housing as we began to realize our enrollment targets,” he added.

However, this project will not only affect Drexel students but the surrounding neighborhood as well, Wills said.

Its effect on Penn students remains to be seen.

“It’s kind of far,” College senior Shelley Co said, adding that she will not likely frequent the area.

Graduate School of Education student Qintan Lin said her chances of making the walk down to Chestnut Square would depend on the quality of retail and restaurants. “If it’s nice, I’d actually go.”

As for the rest of University City and the surrounding area, Wills believes Chestnut Square will benefit West Philadelphia by bringing new businesses into the area. “It is really going to activate an exciting part of Chestnut Street,” he said.

This project “will continue to transform the eastern gateway of University City and strengthen the connection to the central business district,” Matthew Bergheiser, Executive Director of University City District, wrote in an email.

Drexel and American Campus Communities have also collaborated with city officials and the neighborhood, Wills noted. “This is going to be something the neighborhood wants,” he said.

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