The first completed project of the transformative $3.5 billion Schuylkill Yards development is officially open.
Drexel Square, a 1.3-acre parking lot-turned-community park across from 30th Street Station, will serve as a gateway to University City.
“Today, we mark the first element of a $3.5 billion development that will create thousands of construction jobs, be home for thousands of residents and employees and serve as a clear beacon reflecting the resurgence of our great city,” Brandywine Realty Trust President and CEO Jerry Sweeney said during a ribbon cutting ceremony.
“Brandywine believes that public spaces — particularly green spaces — have the power to transform communities, change perceptions and create new realities and that is our mission is really all about. With this public park, we sought to create a place that adds to our communities and enhances the lives to those who life, work and spend time here.”
Designed by West 8 and SHoP Architects, the $14.3 million park is lined with 23 Dawn Redwood trees. The park’s elliptical green lawn, measuring more than 12,000 square feet, features an abstract graphic overlay evoking visions of the globe, while also serving as a pathway for visitors. The site has custom granite benches, outdoor furniture and built-in lighting features.
“It says a lot about our collective vision for Schuylkill Yards that we chose to begin this $3.5 billion long term development with a public space open to everyone,” said John Fry, president of Drexel University.
“Schuylkill Yards is quickly becoming an innovation hub where researchers and startups and established companies come together to collaborate and to create and to drive the new economy. My students, faculty, professional staff and alumni will benefit and contribute to the vibrancy of this development through research and technology transfer and cooperative education partnerships,” he continued.
“Philadelphia residents will also benefit. Schuylkill Yards is an inclusive development that opens doors and creates opportunities for residents in all our surrounding neighborhoods.”
As part of its vision for Schuylkill Yards, Brandywine has launched a $5.6 million neighborhood engagement program focused on small-business development, job creation and affordable housing. The real estate company has provided capital to help grow minority-owned businesses, supported a buy local strategy and has committed to diversifying the construction apprenticeship pipeline.
Elected officials hailed the developers for their efforts.
“When developers find unique opportunities to contribute to our neighborhoods, it has a positive impact on our economy and the growth of our city,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
“But it’s the difference between a good developer and a great developer that makes the difference. A great developer goes above and beyond to truly engage residents to make sure that their project and vision includes the needs of the community … Through supporting small, minority-owned businesses their work supports our administration’s effort to create an inclusive, equitable city for everyone. When we invest in our neighborhoods, all of Philadelphia benefits.”
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said the most meaningful element of this entire master development might be the behind-the-scenes opportunities that Brandywine is creating for West Philadelphia residents and businesses.
“Local neighborhood groups are empowered to make decisions on what’s best for their community,” she said.
“Previously unemployed or underemployed Philadelphians are securing union positions. Local minority enterprises are being granted working capital. Local nonprofit community development corporations are getting exposure and opportunity to new processes and contacts. This is what building a better Philadelphia looks like.”
Brandywine has partnered with the Philadelphia’s building trades on a preparatory program designed to prepare candidates for the required entrance exams so they can be placed on construction apprenticeships. Participants who pass the exam are offered apprenticeships on a Brandywine project.
After he graduated from Construction Advancement and Placement Program in May, Keith Marshall had the opportunity to receive a carpentry apprenticeship. He’s now working on the Schuylkill Yards development.
“It’s very fulfilling,” said Marshall, a 30-year-old resident of West Oak Lane.
“It feels good. I’m an apprentice right now, so I’m working my way up. I got with a good company. I’m working with Hunter Roberts who actually sponsored me. The CAPP program just helped with the whole process.”
The first phase of Schuylkill Yards will be followed by the re-imagination of the former Bulletin building and the development of two towers at 3003 JFK Blvd. and 3025 JFK Blvd. Brandywine will begin construction on the Bulletin building in June with partnership with Philadelphia-based architecture firm Kiernan Timberlake.
Together with Drexel Square, the $43.3 million re-imagination of the Bulletin building will serve as the centerpiece of Schuylkill Yards. The renovated building is fully leased to the life science company, Spark Therapeutics.