Drexel trustees, faculty, students and partners gathered Nov. 1 to celebrate the ceremonial groundbreaking of the largest building project in Drexel history. The upcoming mixed-use development at 34th Street and Lancaster Avenue is a $170 million investment that will feature student housing, retail locations and a dining center.
James Tucker, senior vice president of Student Life and Administrative Services, began the ceremony by introducing notable attendees. Among these were representatives from the Hunter Roberts Construction Group, the contractors responsible for the recent completion of Chestnut Square, as well as representatives from the architectural firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz, designer of the new development.
The new 24-story development is to be located at the site of the recently demolished Frederic O. Hess Engineering Research Laboratory. By fall 2015, the project managers expect that the 580,000-square-foot development will encompass 20,000 square feet of retail space, a new dining center that seats 400, and an additional 1,348 student housing beds. This project will be the largest in both Drexel and American Campus Communities history.
President John A. Fry took the podium to express his gratitude to the many people involved in the conception and realization of this project. He started by acknowledging Tucker and his role in conceptualizing and negotiating the details of the project with ACC, a Texas-based property management group that also manages Chestnut Square and University Crossings. Fry thanked the University Facilities team, the real estate team, and the Office of Government and Community Relations for their dedication and commitment to the project.
“We are accomplishing extraordinary things; we’re doing them at the highest level of quality and in record time,” Fry said.
Fry also explained his personal connection to the project, referencing his convocation speech from three years ago. As the newly selected president of the University, Fry had announced his vision for better relations with Drexel neighbors and for the revitalization of the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor. The magnitude of these commitments and the resulting projects prompted Fry to partner with ACC.
ACC is also involved in transferring the land, sub-surface and air rights from University Crossings to Drexel — a donation with an approximate $12 million value.
“They have developed a relationship with us that I don’t think anyone could’ve foreseen in terms of its scale and its impact and its strategic importance to us,” Fry said of ACC.
In honor of the event, Fry presented Bill Bayless, the CEO of ACC, with a memorial plaque.
Bayless highlighted the longstanding partnership between ACC and Drexel. He especially emphasized the speed and the efficacy with which Drexel staff worked, mentioning that the groundbreaking ceremony occurred only 30 months after the two parties first met to discuss the project.
“We hope that what we put forth here isn’t just concrete and steel and glass but is a living legacy of the Drexel community,” Bayless said.
In addition to fostering the revitalization of Lancaster Avenue, this new development is intended to improve Drexel’s relationship with the surrounding community by consolidating students close to University property. The additional beds to be offered by new student housing are expected to draw students from the surrounding neighborhoods toward the center of campus.
Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development and executive director for the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, spoke to the audience about his enthusiasm for the mixed-use development project and the impact it will have on the local economy.
“When the University grows, the city grows,” he said.
Mahmoud Shurbaji spoke for the students as the president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association. Shurbaji compared the past and present symbolism of Drexel architecture. Whereas the Drexel Shaft once stood for administrative letdowns, he stated that the new building will represent Drexel’s dedication to its students.
“This building will stand tall as a testament to the hard work of students, and that’s why we can indeed replace the idea of the Drexel Shaft,” he said.
The speeches were followed by a reception that offered food and Drexel paraphernalia to commemorate the event.
Though few students attended the groundbreaking ceremony, which occurred on a soggy day with morning rains, there seemed to be a common feeling of excitement for the new property among the undergraduate population.
Gregory Kunkel, a junior international area studies major, said, “I think that the project has the potential to be a great step forward for the University as it expands. … I’m excited to see how the next two years shape up.”