Drexel University has been expanding in recent years and plans to expand further, hoping to add 10,000 new students in the next decade. The Drexel campus in University City has, also, been attracting students who used to mostly commute to the main campus. A large share of these students have been living in apartments in Powelton Village and, increasingly, adjacent neighborhoods, such as West Powelton and Mantua, further away from the main campus. This has caused many of Powelton’s historic Victorian-style homes to be renovated into cheap student apartments, as well as, 1920s-era apartment buildings to be dominated by students. Powelton Village now has a homeownership rate of just 12%, which has been a concern for the neighborhood’s residents. In order to attract more students onto the main campus, Drexel has been planning and building new dormitories and student apartment buildings on campus. They are about to complete Chestnut Square, at 32nd & Chestnut Streets, which I wrote about last year, and have built Caneris Hall on 32nd Street, Race Hall at 33rd and Race Streets, and the 17-storey, football-shaped Millenium Hall at 34th Street and Powelton Avenue. They are, also, planning a highrise dorm at 32nd Street & JFK Boulevard, next to Caneris Hall and University Crossings Apartments, and would like to replace the Firestone shop and a windowless building, across 32nd Street on Lancaster Walk, with retail and a food court. But, the University’s largest and most ambitious new residence hall will be on the southern corner of the intersection of 34th Street & Lancaster Avenue, on the site of the Hess Laboratory and a parking lot, next to the artistic community organization known as the Community Education Center.
The new residence hall will be known as Lancaster Square. It is being built by American Campus Communities, the same builders of Chestnut Square, in partnership with Drexel, and being designed by Solomon, Cordwell, Buenz. The tower will be 24 storeys and 278 feet tall and the entire project will have 528,500 square feet. It will consist of two distinct sections, a low-rise, five and eight-storey tall portion along Lancaster Avenue and the highrise portion, that will mostly be behind the low-rise section along Lancaster and will extend in a wedge-shaped tower to the corner of 34th & Lancaster. It will have 351 units for students, with the maximum capacity of 1,350 student beds. There will be 89 underground parking spaces and bike parking, as well as, a storm water cistern. Additional parking will be available in other lots and garages on campus. The first floor, along Lancaster Avenue, will have 19,000 square feet of retail space all along the sidewalk and will protrude out from the building, creating a terrace above the sidewalk. This terrace will be connected to an “amenity deck” of active community space for the students to use, that will include a sun deck, barbecues, a fire pit, and a hot tub. The 34th Street side of the building will have a large dining hall visible from three-storey glass windows behind cross-hatched supports. There will be a tall staircase from the sidewalk, on 34th Street, leading to the amenity deck and terrace on Lancaster. The facade on Lancaster Avenue will be brick, and the retail spaces will have awnings, and the tower’s facade will have metal panels and large windows. Twenty-two new street trees will be planted along Lancaster Avenue and on 34th Street. This will add to the improvement of Lancaster Avenue’s streetscape, which just received new pedestrian lights on the 3400 block as a first phase of pedestrian lighting on Lancaster that will stretch all the way to 52nd Street, eventually. Lancaster Square just received approval from the City’s Zoning Board of Adjustment yesterday, May 22nd, and was approved by the City Planning Commission last month. The Powelton Village Civic Association dropped their initial opposition after Drexel agreed to provide more parking at their newly purchased lot at 32nd Street and JFK Boulevard. Even with the new residence hall planned at that site, there is still room for parking on that lot. Students at Lancaster Square will be within walking distance of most of Drexel’s campus, as well as, the Market Frankford line’s 34th Street Station, a short block away, and the regional rail and Schuylkill Expressway bus lines at 30th Street Station, and trolleys on 36th Street.
This new student residence and dining hall will provide a MUCH better gateway for the eastern end of Lancaster Avenue, the historic eastern end of the first transcontinental roadway system in the United States. This intersection had been one of the most under-developed intersections in the city, because of its importance and potential as a gateway to Powelton Village and the whole stretch of West Philadelphia neighborhoods along Lancaster Avenue, many of which are still very depressed. Eventually, Drexel would like to develop another residence hall, with retail, on the northern corner of the intersection of 34th & Lancaster, where there are currently tennis courts and a 7-11 behind a parking lot, creating a truly vibrant gateway for the Lancaster Avenue commercial corridor and its adjacent neighborhoods. Lancaster Avenue has been in need of more activity and this development, and the University City Science Center’s new highrise apartment tower at 36th & Market Streets, will provide many new residents and consumers for the commercial corridor. The retail spaces at the intersection of 36th & Lancaster have been mostly vacant; even the restaurant on the southwestern corner, Zocalo, had closed up. That restaurant, fortunately, is about to be replaced with a new Middle-Eastern themed restaurant named Aloosh, that is being built and owned by Samer Albarouki, owner of Ed’s Buffalo Wings and Pizza. Having these two large residential projects on and near Lancaster Avenue (and the new pedestrian lights) will likely bring enough consumers to help that new restaurant thrive and fill up other empty spaces on Lancaster, including long-vacant spaces on the north side of this intersection. Also, the Science Center is planning to build a new highrise office building at 34th & Market Streets, that could begin this year, and they are building a new 11-storey office building at 38th & Market Streets, known as 3737 Market, and would like to begin another development at 38th & Market, that would have 800,000 square feet of office space, next year. And, other residential developments nearby include a 25-storey apartment building at 38th & Chestnut Streets, a new college house being built by the University of Pennsylvania at 34th & Chestnut, that will include a student lounge on the corner (but no retail at all, unfortunately), and The Grove at Cira Centre South, an upscale highrise apartment building for graduate students being built at 30th & Chestnut Streets, part of the Cira South development that will also include a 47-storey office and apartment building on Walnut Street, as well. All this is giving University City a dramatic new skyline, with a mix of student and workforce housing, retail, and more than 2,000,000 square feet of new office space.
If you are interested in buying or selling a home or investment property in University City, or anywhere else in the city, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or view my Long & Foster agent portal, here, my Facebook real estate page, Gabriel G. Philly Realtor, or my twitter page, @GabrielGPhilaRE. You can, also, check out our Long & Foster Philly Center City Office, here. I have a link to the Zoning Board’s website, showing the zoning application and approval, and I have numerous renderings and pictures of the site and neighborhood, below.