Tag Archives: University City District

Change Afoot in West Philly!

The Philadelphia Business Journal reports on a new mixed use development by Drexel University and American Campus Communities going up in Powelton Village at the corner of 34th and Lancaster.

The development will have over 20,000 square feet of retail space and will house over 1,300 students.  The land was formerly part of the Drexel campus, but used for shop and warehouse space.  The development will be a $170+ million dollar investment – the largest individual development project (in dollars) for Drexel or American Campus Communities.  The investment is significant – the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor has lots of potential, historic buildings, and great local businesses and some galleries that serve locals and the student market.

This type of development shows that the area may be prime for an uptick in commercial activity, student interest, and (probably) increasing residential rents.  American Campus Communities is a real estate investment trust (REIT) that trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ACC.

The investment could help stabilize the corridor and provide a boost to businesses, but with any major investment like this, the community needs to be careful to ensure that the growth doesn’t force out longer term businesses who can’t afford new rents.  This type of development can also lead to the loss of historic buildings as investors may demolish in order to assemble larger parcels for other big developments.

The positives are that Drexel and ACC are committed to the community by investing in something that they can’t simply move and having an “anchor” institution often means a stable community.  (To the university’s credit, Drexel already invests over $500,000 annually in the University City District, which supplements security and cleaning services in the neighborhood – evidence of the benefit of anchor partners!).  The development will also help stitch the fabric of the Lancaster Avenue businesses closer into the Drexel campus by filling an underutilized gap in the streetscape.

A few years ago I was at a presentation by the former president of the American Planning Association, Mitchell Silver, who said that gentrification is revitalization with tradeoffs.  Being aware and careful to avoid tradeoffs between existing businesses and new development can mean that Drexel’s new development revitalizes the neighborhood instead of gentrifying it.