Schuylkill Yards Announcement
Remarks by President John A. Fry
March 2, 2016
Welcome everyone, and thank you for being here on one of the best days I’ve had in my tenure at Drexel. It's a delight to see so many good friends of Philadelphia all together in one place. That place at the moment is a parking lot, transformed for today into an elegant venue. But there's a much bigger transformation coming. This parking lot we've pitched our tent in is going to become a world-class open space in the tradition of Philadelphia’s iconic public squares, a beautiful and welcoming spot and a showplace for the openness and inclusiveness designed into Schuylkill Yards…the heart of Philadelphia's next generation Innovation District.
Today is our opportunity to introduce you to Schuylkill Yards, and once you've had a close-up look at our plans, and met some of the people behind them, I think you'll agree that this is a concept synonymous with Philadelphia’s growth and maturation as a leader in new ideas.
This is not just a prime location… it’s one of the most exciting spots in America to create a new neighborhood built around innovation.
We are at the 50-yard line of the East Coast on a major transportation hub, directly opposite the nation’s third busiest train station and seamlessly connected to Philadelphia’s business center and the incredible research and technology ecosystem of University City.
For years Drexel has been looking for a higher purpose for this unique property. Schuylkill Yards is that higher purpose and the time is right to put our vision into motion.
From day one of the planning process this project has been designed with intention to attract businesses and residents who are committed to innovation, to reach out to residents of the adjoining neighborhoods like Mantua and Powelton Village and to provide life-enhancing opportunities for all to enjoy new public spaces.
Schuylkill Yards will be a knowledge neighborhood, leveraging the R&D resources of University City icons like the University of Pennsylvania and its hospitals... the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia… the University of the Sciences… the University City Science Center… the Wistar Institute… and especially Drexel, which can contribute so much through cooperative education and translational research.
In terms of its value for economic development and impact on the city, this is oceanfront property! But unlike most oceanfront property, the 14 acres of Schuylkill Yards won't be developed for an exclusive few. They will be developed for all Philadelphians…with new jobs and business opportunities tied to education and new services for everyone.
This afternoon, we’re asking you to join us in some reality-based future gazing. But to understand the genesis that made this day possible we need to look back into history at two critical decisions made a century apart by Drexel Founder Anthony J. Drexel and the Drexel University board of trustees.
In 1891 Anthony Drexel decided on Chestnut and 32nd as the location for his new institute and built the building that's still our Main Building today. He wanted Drexel to offer maximum access to Philadelphians regardless of income level or what neighborhoods they lived in. And his choice of a location was driven to a great extent by the fact that this neighborhood was a transportation hub which is still true today.
Fast forward a hundred years to 1993 when, under the leadership of the late George Ross, our trustees made the gutsy decision to begin acquiring the land that now makes up Schuylkill Yards…despite an economy bad enough to have Philadelphia fighting to avoid bankruptcy and Drexel fighting to survive. That decision was a vote of confidence in the future of both Drexel and Philadelphia. A vote seconded many times over by our current trustees -- from the purchase of the JFK Boulevard properties and the Firestone site under the leadership of Rich Greenawalt, to proactive civic engagement here in a city that's learned to believe in itself again.
We already have early adopters, here and nearby who share our excitement and are proving the concept of Schuylkill Yards. Dick Hayden launched PHL Next Stage Med right here at One Drexel Plaza to jumpstart development of medical devices and therapeutics in Philadelphia. In a matter of months since coming to University City four PHL Next Stage Med companies have raised more than 14 million dollars to continue their efforts. This building is also home to Pennoni Associates’ Engineering Innovation Center. Ron Rock and point I.O. set up shop in the Innovation Center at 3401 Market Street which is Drexel’s partnership with the University City Science Center and now home to about 35 emerging companies as well as the headquarters of DreamIt Ventures, founded by David Bookspan, Michael Levinson and Steve Welch. And throughout University City, you’ll find pathbreaking companies like First Round Capital, led by partners including Josh Koppelman and Chris Fralic, and OrangeMaker, founded by Drexel grad Doug Farber along with Kurt Dudley.
Our belief is that Philadelphia is ready to lead in innovation inspired and supported by elected officials like our new mayor Jim Kenney, Councilperson Jannie Blackwell, City Council President Darrell Clarke and our state and federal representatives along with the commitment of business and leaders like Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Chairman and Drexel Trustee Denis O'Brien, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and his colleague David Cohen, who also chairs the trustees at Penn. Leaders like this have given momentum to Philadelphia’s emergence as a world-class city and they reinforce our conviction that the time is right for Schuylkill Yards.
From day one in our deliberations about this project the Drexel community understood that its success would depend on the quality of our partnerships in Greater Philadelphia. And of all those partnerships none will be as critical as the one we form with the firm selected as master developer for Schuylkill Yards. That selection process was in the capable hands of Drexel Senior Vice President Keith Orris. I want to thank Keith and his talented and devoted team for an extraordinary job.
After a search that brought in proposals from highly qualified developers across the nation we found the best of the best right here in Philadelphia. It’s a team we’ve partnered with successfully before and shares our vision -- Brandywine Realty Trust. Talking to Jerry Sweeney and his team at Brandywine we understood why a project this important to the fabric and the future of Philadelphia requires a developer that is already part of that fabric, and creating that future. Brandywine has demonstrated its commitment to the city. Time and time again in the 20 years since Jerry had his vision for a new type of real estate leader, Brandywine has changed the skyline of Philadelphia through projects that align perfectly with the promise of this unique spot. If you step outside this tent you’ll see the Cira Centre office tower, the EVO residential tower, and the FMC Tower now going up at Cira Centre South…each a Brandywine project.
Brandywine has also moved the Philadelphia market through its acquisition of some of the city’s most important commercial properties. Even more impressive than Brandywine's business resumé are the values Jerry Sweeney brings to that business…values very much in sync with Drexel's. Jerry’s ideals were nicely captured in something he said when the city honored his civic leadership with the Edward Powell Award for 2015. Jerry said, and I quote: "Real estate… what we build and what we make isn't really a finished product. It’s (really) a bridge that we can build to improve our communities and our neighborhoods."
And there’s no better bridge-building partner than Jerry and Brandywine Realty Trust.
I’m excited for the growth Schuylkill Yards will catalyze for Philadelphia and proud of how widely the benefits will be shared. Inclusion is at the heart of this project. It's not a side benefit. It’s a value shared by the partners who are making this happen. The Innovation District growing up around this place is unique for being located largely in a federally designated Promise Zone. That designation recognizes both the depth of the challenges that nearby neighborhoods face and the great potential for improvement. And this 20-year, $3.5 billion project will benefit thousands of low-income families without disrupting the fabric of their neighborhoods. Schuylkill Yards will connect long-term economic development with sustainable social progress on a level that's never been done before. Jobs are a big part of making that happen. And we're not depending on a trickle down approach to job creation…not with unemployment levels of 15 percent and poverty rates of nearly 50 percent in nearby neighborhoods. Brandywine and Drexel will be actively partnering with builders, with tenants and with community members to maximize the hiring of residents and the inclusion of local business and suppliers. And because Schuylkill Yards is within the Promise Zone, we look forward to collaborating with federal agencies that you don’t normally associate with innovation districts. We're also committed to working with the Philadelphia Public School District, building on partnerships Drexel has nourished for years, to see that kids in neighborhoods like Mantua and West Powelton get the education they deserve to go on to college and develop the skills for the well-paying, knowledge-intensive jobs that the innovation district will create.
I'd like to thank every one of you for being here, because the civic leaders gathered under this big top represent a distinctly Philadelphia brand of innovation …a willingness to come together for the public good. That kind of innovation launched Philadelphia's comeback. And we're feeling its momentum today as we launch Schuylkill Yards, which we see as one generation passing on a gift to the next.