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Penn moves closer to eastward expansion

(08/08/03 9:00am)

Penn can now move closer to making its plans for eastward expansion of the campus a reality, thanks to the Postal Service's recent decision to relocate its existing 30th Street facility to Southwest Philadelphia. The Postal Service Board of Governors Monday announced plans to construct a new two-story $289.2 million Processing and Distribution Center between Suffolk Avenue and 72nd Street, replacing the current facility, according to a news release. The move to the new location, scheduled to take place in 2006, will free up land that Penn has been pursuing for years as part of its efforts to enlarge its campus. The site includes two already existing buildings -- a main post office across from 30th Street Station and a postal annex next door -- in addition to a 350-car parking garage and 14 additional acres of land, University spokeswoman Lori Doyle said. In June, the University Board of Trustees authorized the spending of $50.6 million and continued negotiations for the purchase, and while a final agreement has not yet been reached with the Postal Service, Doyle said one is expected this fall. At that point, the University will make a five percent deposit on the purchase. Full acquisition and development of the land will not take place until January of 2007. Cathy Yarosky, a Postal Service media representative, acknowledged that discussions with the University regarding the sale of the land are in progress, but that no official agreement has been reached. "We know the University of Pennsylvania is interested," Yarosky said. "We are talking to them, but nothing has been finalized at this point." Acquiring the Postal Service land has long been a goal of Penn's administration, as it represents a key link between West Philadelphia and Center City and is one the campus's few possibilities for geographic growth. The University agreed it would not expand farther west following the construction of Hamilton Village, and with Drexel to the north and healthcare facilities to the south, expanding eastward may be the only option. Purchase plans have been continuously delayed, though, due to the Postal Service's financial constraints, which have hindered the construction of a new facility. "The acquisition of that site is key to Penn's future for the next 50 years," Doyle said. "The master plan calls for eventual growth to the east connecting the campus to center city" and "is consistent with the master plans for the city and the Schuylkill River Development Corporation." As of now, Doyle said, plans are "all up in the air" in terms of how the land will be used, but "will become more clear as we start to sit down and do the planning for the development of the site." Previously, the University had indicated that the site might be used for the construction of a biomedical complex. Doyle stressed that Penn's plans for the land are part of a multi-faceted effort that includes a number of other local companies and organizations, including the University City District, Amtrak, the Schuylkill River Development Corporation and Drexel University. "In the past year, we've spent a considerable amount of time working with all of the players in the Schuylkill gateway area," she said. "We're working in conjunction with all of these other groups. We're not just doing this on our own." Eric Goldstein, executive director of the UCD, said his organization will help "to really create a seamless transition between University City" and the center city district. He noted that a consistent finding among surveys conducted in the area has been that there is a "perceived divide between downtown Philadelphia and University City," and that this perception "affects choices" -- ranging from where local residents go out to dinner to which areas are most attractive to business owners. "It's going to have a tremendous impact," he said. Goldstein added that he does not expect an adverse response from the community west of Penn's campus, due to the nature and location of the planned expansion. "Right now the land is mostly under-utilized," Goldstein said, explaining that the land Penn plans to purchase is not residential and is not home to existing businesses.

City joins ranks of U. Michigan supporters

(02/27/03 10:00am)

The city of Philadelphia has partnered with the city of Cleveland and the National Conference of Black Mayors, Inc., in submitting a "friend of the court" brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan's use of race-based admissions policy. The amicus curiae brief, signed by City Solicitor Nelson Diaz, was submitted last week, in the final days before the court's deadline, according to Philadelphia senior attorney Michelle Flamer. It follows a City Council resolution passed on Jan. 28 announcing the council's intent to support Michigan and to encourage the administration to file an amicus brief, according to Flamer. It was also written in consultation with Philadelphia Mayor John Street, although he is not a signatory, she added. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear two cases -- Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger -- involving Michigan's use of race as a factor in its admissions policy at both the undergraduate level and the university's law school in April. Dozens of amicus briefs have been filed both in support of and against Michigan, with signatories ranging from groups of colleges and universities and non-profit associations to major business corporations and private individuals. The University is among the schools that have submitted briefs favoring Michigan. Penn professors, including Law School Dean Michael Fitts, and Penn Law students have also signed pro-Michigan briefs. The city's brief also joins one filed last week by a group of more than 30 current and former Pennsylvania politicians, led by state representative Mark Cohen (D.-Phila.). In its brief, the city asks the court to reaffirm the decision made in the 1978 landmark case of University of California Regents v. Bakke, which held that colleges and universities could in fact use race as one of many factors in making admissions decisions, but disallowed the use of quota systems. "Justice Powell recognized that this court's long-standing commitment to limit judicial intrusion into academic affairs cautioned against adopting a sweeping rule," the brief states. "By allowing schools to consider race as one factor among many, Justice Powell's Bakke rule thus ensures that schools can conduct their admissions procedures free from undue judicial interference, and that race does not predominate in those procedures." Although the brief was a joint effort between the two cities and the NCBM, Philadelphia "really took the lead in this," according to Flamer. It was written by pro-bono counsel Victor Bolden, an attorney with Connecticut-based firm Wiggin & Dana. The city's brief is based largely on its concern for the educational and economic well-being of its residents. "Philadelphia believes that participation in this case as a city is critical to ensuring access to higher education for all its public school students, recognizing that without these educational opportunities, Philadelphia will be ill-equipped to take advantage of the economy growth it envisions," the brief states. Flamer said that Philadelphia officials were interested in combining their efforts with those of other cities. "When the city solicitor expressed interest in doing this... what we were really interested in was possibly joining other municipalities," Flamer said, noting that the city contacted a number of other municipalities, including New York City, hoping they would also want to file a brief but found little interest. The city considered working with Maryland and New York states, but theirs weren't "the appropriate brief," Flamer said. "Everyone is very well-intentioned... but what we tried to really make clear in our brief was we were expressing a municipal view," Flamer said. "Many of the corporations filed briefs basically supporting the whole concept of diversity and how it was very important to their economy." She explained that in Philadelphia's case, because the city is very diverse racially and ethnically and "we also have an overwhelming number of minority children enrolled in our public school system," the outcome of the case could have a significant economic impact. "Really, there's lots of empirical data that draw a nexus between your education and your employment," she said. "For us, it was all tied into putting our children coming out of our schools on a level playing field." Flamer noted that Cleveland officials had concurrent views and that the city has "a much smaller school district" and "a very low graduation rate."