Redevelopment of 33rd Street Corridor to Expand Nexus of Athletics Activity for Drexel and Philadelphia

Buckley Bubble rendering

Conceptual rendering of "Buckley Bubble," a seasonal all-weather dome structure that will give Drexel students year-round access to the turf field on 33rd and Arch Streets starting in the Fall of 2019. 

The hub of athletics activity on Drexel’s University City campus will soon have a new look — and even more activity. Announced today, renovation plans for the two-block stretch of 33rd Street adjacent to the University’s indoor varsity and recreational sports complexes, will expand its athletics and events space, and bring in US Squash, the national governing body of the sport of squash, as a new tenant and developer of the Pennsylvania Armory.

The comprehensive plan reimagines 33rd Street between Lancaster Ave. and Race Street as a locus of sports for the University community and beyond. Drexel will construct a seasonal, domed athletics facility and continue to work with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to complete restoration of the Pennsylvania Armory in preparation for US Squash to develop it as a premier venue for training and competition. 

Drexel’s multi-million-dollar recreational space-improvement project includes renovating Buckley Recreational Field, an athletic field at the corner of 33rd and Arch Streets, to install a seasonal, all-weather dome that will be inflated in the Fall of 2019. Funded by the generous support of alumnus and Athletics Hall of Famer Robert Buckley (‘58) and trustee Stan Silverman (‘69, ‘74), the dome on 33rd street, along with a similar structure, installed concurrently at Vidas Athletic Complex on 43rdand Powelton Ave., will provide Drexel with 44,572 square feet of programming space with sport-specific surfaces, lighting and climate control. 

“Our vision, enabled by the generous support of Bob Buckley and Stan Silverman, is to open that area up for even more use by students year-round, and to bring in a highly motivated partner, in US Squash, that will turn the Armory into a national squash training center — a world-class facility that will be a treasure for the city, a boon to its economy and a place for Philadelphians to pick up a racket and play a lifetime sport that is one of the fastest-growing in the country,” said Drexel President John Fry

Fry noted that, in the span of just a few blocks, Drexel already boasts the busiest turf field in University City, the best recreation center in Philadelphia and one of the top basketball arenas in the Colonial Athletic Association. 

More than two-thirds of Drexel students currently make use of these spaces, according to Athletics Director Eric Zillmer, with over 1,000 students currently engaging in organized club athletics and some 700,000 students and members making use of the University’s award-winning Recreation Center last year. 

“As a result of this high participation rate for students engaging in sports and recreation, Drexel Athletics has grown to become a vibrant and dynamic part of the campus that touches on the pulse of our University,” Zillmer said. “This project, including the construction of two state-of-the-art seasonal domes, will allow us to expand our recreational athletics offerings by 30 percent over the next two years and keep pace to accommodate our students’ growing demand for activity space.”

With support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, restoration of the Pennsylvania Armory, which include both exterior improvements and repairs to preserve and enhance the annex and museum for use by the National Guard, will continue through the school year. The Armory has been the home of the National Guard’s 103rd Engineering Battalion since the 1920s and has also serves as host of Drexel’s Army ROTC program.

“I cannot express enough how grateful I am for the support of the Commonwealth in moving this project forward,” Fry said. “In addition to helping to fund the renovation of the exterior and enhancement of the annex, Governor Wolf has committed additional support for the conversion of the drill hall to the future home of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center. He and his administration, with a particular acknowledgement of the critical roles that the Office of the Budget, the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of General Services played in this effort, have been wonderful partners throughout. I look forward to continuing to work with them on this exciting opportunity.”

Specter Squash Center

In the spring of 2019, US Squash will begin construction of the Arlen Specter US Squash Center. The project, which is an extension of Drexel’s mission as an economic anchor institution for the city and its longstanding relationship with US Squash, will bring world-class athletes and competitions to Philadelphia while also serving as the headquarters of the sport’s national governing body and hall of fame.

“Our longstanding U.S. Open partnership with Drexel University has bolstered Philadelphia’s position as a central hub for the sport and has been critical to developing the event into one of the world’s most prominent squash championships,” said US Squash President & CEO Kevin Klipstein. “With the Specter Center, the same spirit of collaboration will allow us to deliver world-class training for our elite athletes and model how to provide broad community access to squash for the rest of the country to follow.”

The center will include state-of-the-art competition and training facilities, as well as teaching centers for coaches and players. It will host a number of national championship tournaments, including the U.S. Open Squash Championships — which Drexel has hosted since 2011 — bringing in players, coaches and fans from around the world. And players of all ages from around the city will have access to the world-class facility.

“The Arlen Specter US Squash Center will be a spectacular addition to Philadelphia’s sports landscape and we’re thrilled to be welcoming squash athletes from around the globe to our great city for years to come,” said Larry Needle, executive director of PHL Sports, a business development division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our thanks to Drexel University and US Squash for their tremendous leadership on this new project, which will undoubtedly generate many new events and be a vital asset to the community.” 

The new facility will also allow US Squash to expand its community engagement and programming for urban youth and public schools. The Specter Center’s “Learning & Innovation Center” will be run in partnership with SquashSmarts, the local mentorship and education program, which was founded at Drexel in 2001, that has broadened access and exposure to squash for thousands of school-age children throughout Philadelphia. In addition, it will be open to squash players from the University City community and throughout Philadelphia. 

“On an urban university campus like Drexel’s, recreational activity is one of the primary touchpoints for the university with its surrounding community,” Zillmer said “This project recognizes the unique opportunity we have to embrace that relationship and use it as a driver for positive change in our city.”