As Penn prepares for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Pennovation Center on Friday, Drexel University’s Innovation Neighborhood is still searching for a master developer.
Both universities are pushing to become incubators of commercial enterprise and educational advancement. Since purchasing a 23-acre site on Grays Ferry Avenue in 2010, Penn has been working to develop the Pennovation Center — a three-story, 52,000-square-foot complex that will serve as a hub for research and business ventures. In addition to the ceremonial groundbreaking on Friday, Penn President Amy Gutmann will host a series of “Pennovation Talks” at the South Bank campus.
“The Center will bring to gether researchers and innovators in a place that will provide resources to spur entrepreneurial activities, creative collaborations and new approaches to the translation of basic research discoveries,” Penn’s Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli said.
At the same time, Drexel is working to develop an “Innovation Neighborhood” — a 5 million square foot section at the eastern edge of its campus. It hopes to announce a master developer by early next year.
On top of the $13 million spent on the land, Penn is investing approximately $35 million in the project. The City of Philadelphia is helping Penn finance the project by supporting applications for federal and state grants.
Philadelphia has a stake in Penn’s South Bank, which may help revitalize the lower Schuylkill River district — a declining industrial area that the city is working to modernize — said Tom Dalfo, the senior vice president of real estate services at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation , a public-private development organization.
“There is a symbiotic relationship between Penn and the city,” Dalfo said. “We want to see the Pennovation Center generate economic activity” that will spill over to the rest of the city.
The unfinished Pennovation Center is already set to house the future expansion of Penn’s GRASP Laboratory, which does research on robotics. The South Bank campus on which the center is located has also attracted several startup companies, including Dock Street Spirits manufacturing, Edible Philly magazine publishing and KMel Robotics, and will house Penn Dental Research Greenhouse and the School of Arts and Sciences Bio Garden as well .
While Penn is financially backing the South Bank development, investment for the Innovation Neighborhood will mostly come from the businesses that end up leasing properties.
“Even though it’s a collaborative effort, [businesses] would be the ones bearing the market risk,” Keith Orris, a Drexel vice president who is heading the project, said in an interview in September. “Coordination is needed to find the right mix of tenants at the right time to realize the full potential of the development.”
Drexel and the developer on the project will soon begin marketing the development to businesses nationwide, said Mark Seltzer, the senior vice president of JLL , the advising firm working with Drexel.
Though Penn and Drexel are not directly working together, administrators hope the projects will complement each other.
“Each institution supports each other’s plans and visions for leveraging research to generate innovation-based economic development,” Carnaroli said. “We support [Drexel’s project] because it’s good for Philadelphia, and in turn, we know Drexel supports our plans because of what it means for the future of our collective city.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly indicated that the Pennovation Center will house several companies and University programs that will actually be located on Penn's South Bank campus.Comments powered by Disqus
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