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Rendering by SHoP / West 8

William Penn's original plan for Philadelphia included five city squares. More than 300 years later, Drexel University, working with a Radnor, Pa.-based real estate firm, is prepared to add a sixth major square just blocks east of Penn's campus.

Brandywine Realty Trust and Drexel University began construction Wednesday on the park, the first leg of a $3.5 billion public construction project in the area between Drexel's campus and 30th Street Station. Known as "Schuylkill Yards," the complex of several buildings will adjoin the Schuylkill River with the stated goal of building a research and development hub in University City. 

The first phase of the new Schuylkill Yards should be complete in the fall of 2018, while the whole project will span 15 to 20 years. 

“We are proud that our first project in Schuylkill Yards will deliver a green public gathering space where the community can connect, interact, and share experiences,” Brandywine President and CEO Jerry Sweeney said in a statement. 

Brandywine has promised to levy financial penalties on contractors who do not abide by the firm's diversity goals, which mandate that "60 percent of all contracted laborer hours and 30 percent of contracted skilled personnel hours to go to African American, Hispanic, and Asian workers," according to a report in The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

“What Philadelphia truly needs is long-term inclusive growth and this project serves as a model for how we can make that happen going forward,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement

Brandywine, the firm driving the Schuylkill Yards construction, has worked with Penn in the past on the Cira Centre South project, which includes the 730-foot FMC tower, Cira Green, an urban green space, and the Evo skyscraper.

In recent days, Philadelphia leaders have cited the Schuylkill Yards project as part of the city's full-scale pitch to Amazon to build its second headquarters in the city.

“If we are lucky,” Drexel University President John Fry told Philly Curbed, “Drexel Square may one day soon be a gathering spot for thousands and thousands of Amazon employees.”