Drexel University has been awarded a $5 million Economic Growth Initiative Grant to help develop Drexel’s Innovation Neighborhood. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley presented the grant to the University Oct. 10.
“It certainly allows us to go forward,” David Wilson, vice president in the office of government and community relations at Drexel, said. “It’s an important cornerstone … to developing the area immediately west of 30th Street Station,” he said.
Wilson, who helped secure the grant for Drexel, explained that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can give out $125 million for redevelopment as part of the grant. Drexel applied for a $9 million grant back in February. An estimated 285 projects competed for a share of the $125 million total. The money is distributed based on economic impact statements submitted by those running the projects. The impact statements involve an “intricate scoring system based on [factors such as] jobs created,” according to Wilson. Drexel also received points due to being a higher education facility.
The final decision is not entirely based upon statistics but also by an official review by the Pennsylvania governor. The governor examines the scores from various factors and chooses the projects most important to him. His administration has been releasing the results slowly over the past month and a half.
However, the grant is not simply a donation. “You have to promise in your application that every dollar in the grant is matched one to one,” explained Wilson. In Drexel’s case, every grant dollar is matched by three dollars from the University’s partners.
The Innovation Neighborhood at Drexel will feature partnerships with technological firms, joint ventures with industries, interdisciplinary academic and research programs and business incubators. The area will be used for many different purposes, with facilities such as offices, laboratories, classrooms, retail, residential space, gardens and plazas. Due to its location near 30th Street Station, the neighborhood will link Drexel more closely with New York, Washington, D.C., and the entire East Coast.
The team behind the neighborhood hopes that it will become an innovation center like Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts. They also see the area as the “sixth square” to match William Penn’s five-square city plan for Philadelphia. Current projections place the cost of the project at $36 million.
Most of the land has been designated as a Pennsylvania Keystone Opportunity Zone. Wilson explained that these zones encourage developers because some taxes are waived for a set period of time. Zones tend to vary in expiration times but can be renewed. He mentioned that several of these zones exist in Philadelphia, the Navy Yard being one example.
Phase one of the project involves 3101 Market Street, Nesbitt Hall and the Firestone building on 32nd and Market. 3101 Market Street used to belong to the Philadelphia Parking Authority. According to Wilson, it will soon be home to the AJ Drexel Institute for Energy and the Environment. Payette, the architectural firm involved in this project, has previously worked for both Duke and Harvard Universities. According to Drexel’s corporate relations and economic development website, the area will also see a new structure that will be 20 stories tall, with 20,000 square feet per floor, and the ground floor will be home to dining, entertainment and retail services.
Drexel is currently seeking a developer for the overall project. Proposals from prospective developers are due on the 31st of this month. The University plans to narrow down a list of contenders with the help of Jones Lang LaSalle, a financial firm, by February. Between the end of this month and April, the University will select a developer who will obtain a 99-year lease on the land.
Additionally, Drexel and Amtrak are jointly investigating air rights to the nearby rail yards. Along with Brandywine Realty Trust, the two began a feasibility study in January.