American Jewish Committee Keynote

Hello, everyone, and good evening.

I'm really pleased to be able to share a few thoughts with you about the future of Philadelphia and University City ... about the American Jewish Committee, as the venerable and valued organization that it is ... and also about a great Philadelphian — Joe Zuritsky.

Let me start by mentioning a great experience that the AJC made possible for me, which was my visit to Israel as part of the AJC Project Interchange University President's trip in 2011.

I'll never forget the beauty of the country, the determination of its people, and the excitement of being in a nation that, at the time, was 63-years-young.

As a result of that trip, Drexel University also strengthened its connection to Israel.

We developed a number of new partnerships for research and study — particularly with Ben Gurion University, where we are cooperating in areas such as public health, engineering, nursing, environmental science, technology, and many more.

And Drexel sent its own delegation to Israel in 2018, led by our Provost, to explore how we can expand these partnerships.

Again, thank you for inviting me to participate in this celebration.

When AJC presented its Judge Learned Hand Award to Tom Kline in 2017, I was honored to co-chair the dinner and speak about my good friend, Tom Kline.

With his wise counsel and an incredibly generous gift, Tom has helped us transform our law school into one of the rising stars in legal education.

Let me turn now to another star player ...

As we think about the city's growth and the important work of AJC, really, Joe Zuritsky has had an enormous impact on both.

As a businessman, he's been thinking about what works for Philadelphia for the past 60 years.

And as a pillar of the Philadelphia Jewish community, he has done so much to promote Jewish causes and to help in the critical fight against antisemitism wherever it arises.

He and his beloved, late wife, Renee, demonstrated their love for this community through their long-standing philanthropic efforts — including decades of support for the National Museum of American Jewish History and many civic, educational and advocacy organizations like AJC and so many others.

Not many individuals can boast of a resume like Joe Zuritsky's.

He started in the family business as a teen-ager, and he hasn't looked back since.

Parkway Corporation wouldn't be anything near what it is today without Joe's leadership, insight and acumen.

As large and influential a player in Philadelphia as it is, the company is still very much a family affair — and that speaks volumes about the kind of enterprise created under Joe Zuritsky.

Philadelphia has been the beneficiary of that legacy, as well.

It's certainly not uncommon in the parking industry for owners to operate their primary business, and then eventually develop their properties.

Joe has done that, but he did not simply sell to developers.

He teamed up with them.

He took a personal interest in the quality of the developments, and he always did so from the added perspective of what is good for the city.

That's what makes him special.

The fact that dozens of individuals and groups have partnered with Parkway in developing multi-family properties, office buildings, hotels and garages also speaks to the quality of the company he has built.

I'm so pleased to highlight Joe's work because I think he and I have a shared sense of the possibilities for Philadelphia ... for University City, which has been my main focus ... and for the idea that — in a city with so much poverty — we have to work to lift all boats as the tide rises.

I've spent much of my working life in University City.

These days, it's being called 'Philly's Hottest Neighborhood.'

But I certainly don't take any credit for discovering that ...

For that, I think we can go back more than 100 years ...

There was this guy named Anthony J. Drexel ...

When he was thinking of founding what became Drexel University, he looked around his West Philadelphia neighborhood and he saw that it was at the very heart of an urban space.

There were rail yards, mills, factories, warehouses — even slaughterhouses — all operating in close proximity to the bustling residential neighborhoods we know as Powelton Village and Mantua.

Drexel described the location where he built at 32d and Chestnut Streets as, quote, "central to the best of the working population of a great industrial city."

And now, what's old is new.

Long after Drexel's Institute of Art, Science and Industry opened in 1891, the business focus of Philadelphia began to concentrate on the other side of the Schuylkill.

But today, we know that has been changing for more than two decades.

Business and civic leaders are taking stock of the growth of University City, because it's happening right before our eyes.

More about that in a minute ...

But first, think back to Drexel and its beginnings ...

Unlike many universities that catered mainly to privileged, white, Anglo-Saxon men, Drexel made no restrictions on students' race, religion, socioeconomic status — or gender.

That mission has shaped the University in profound ways as an institution ... and it has inspired my belief since arriving as president in 2010 that we have an anchor mission in Philadelphia — and, in particular, how we develop our campus and the surrounding area.

We want whatever growth happens to be inclusive, so that no one is left behind in the shadow of the stunning new buildings that are rising around Amtrak's 30th Street Station.

That's why we're working to improve the public schools as part of the federal Promise Zone.

That's why we are so supportive of job training and readiness efforts.

That's why we created an urban extension center in our Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.

And so much more.

I know that's a goal shared by all of our partners in University City.

Working together, we are all trying to set the table for growth ... driven by innovation, but also equitable in nature.

So, how are doing?

At Drexel, we have a two-pronged development strategy that has taken shape.

On the east side of our campus, opposite the train station, we hope to drive much of the growth with our Schuylkill Yards development.

This is a 20-year, $3.5 billion plan set on a 14-acres that is strengthening the connection between University City and Center City.

Our partner there is Brandywine Realty Trust, and their work is going gangbusters.

I hope you have seen how they literally put the Schuylkill Yards name up in lights on the old Bulletin Building.

They've broken ground for a stunning West Tower along JFK Boulevard.

And they will break ground this summer on another building fronting on both Market Streets and JFK.

Then ... to the west, we have Wexford Science + Technology as our partner in developing uCIty Sqare at the former University City High School Site.

They're creating some amazing spaces ... including the new home for our College of Computing and Informatics.

Nearby, a new public-school space for Powel Elementary and the Science Leadership Academy Middle School opened to its first cohort of students this spring.

And next door, we're building an academic tower for College of Nursing and Health Professions and the academic programs of the Drexel College of Medicine.

As these developments takes shape, the 30th Street District Plan will start to be implemented at some point in the future.

That envisions building an elevated platform over the Amtrak and Septa railyard to create 16 million square feet of new space with a fully renovated 30th Street Station that will be the envy of the transit world.

When you think of University City, you also have to look to the University City District as playing a key role in partnering on the phenomenal growth we've seen.

The UCD was modeled after the Center City District, which was the catalyst to the rebirth of Center City.

The founding principles were simple: Clean and safe streets.

That has served the University City District well over the years – even as it has grown in size and scope.

Today's UCD now offers so much more, including job training, through its nationally known West Philadelphia Skills Initiative; rehabilitating abandoned buildings; and becoming an expert maker of measurable urban places, such as The Porch outside 30th Street Station before the pandemic, and so much more.

Great leadership has always been the key for the UCD, and it's run now by Matt Bergheiser – one of the most effective leaders in Philadelphia.

While it is wonderful to look back on what has been accomplished, what's more important now is to look ahead.

In 10 years, I see a University City where innovation and inclusion combine to further strengthen the competitive position of our institutions, while creating even greater opportunities for residents who will live in increasingly safe, diverse and vibrant neighborhoods.

The Brookings Institution report released a few years ago envisioned an innovation district stretching from University City to the Comcast towers.

Other cities are scrambling to compete in the challenging race to be a world-class metro, but we already enjoy this natural innovation district.

That positions us so well for the future.

The challenge now is to build on our strengths by creating more startups, attracting more investment, and growing more job opportunities for everyone.

At the same time, we have to continue to bolster our primary and secondary schools and increase educational opportunities for all University City residents.

I think inclusion meets innovation when you create the infrastructure to provide cradle-to-career opportunities.

We're hoping the Powel and Science Learning Academy schools that we built will help with that.

The goal is for all the activity in University City to contribute to a whole that's great than the sum of its parts.

What has been accomplished in University City is a credit to the hard work and inspiration of so many individuals.

It's about adding value.

Something your honoree, Joe Zuritsky, knows a lot about ...

It's also about creating opportunities ...

Joe's wife, Renée Zuritsky, once said, and I quote, "If you understand your blessings, and you feel grateful for what you have — and we all have a lot to be grateful for — giving back is a very natural response in living."

This city ... this community ... we're all grateful for the work of AJC ... and for outstanding members of the AJC 'family' like Joe Zuritsky.

And working together, I really think it's possible to build a city that's the best possible version of itself.

Thank you, once again, for allowing me to join you in honoring Joe and the American Jewish Committee.

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