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Philly Urban Living - Local | Real Estate | News | Development

By Timothy M. Garrity | Broker in Philadelphia, PA
  • Will Drexel's Innovation Neighborhood look like this?

    Posted Under: Schools in Philadelphia, Rentals in Philadelphia, Investment Properties in Philadelphia  |  March 20, 2014 4:55 PM  |  833 views  |  No comments

    Hmm, not sure how to feel about this one yet.

    The plan looks awesome and super-possible. But when you look at all of the moving parts involved with a project this impressive, it can be hard to fathom.

    On the other hand, John Fry and Drexel have not been messing around in recent years. New buildings, new signage, and new plans. Not only have they done their homework, but they seem to have enough players in place (Drexel, Amtrak, & Brandywine) to get a big part of the project moving forward: Building over the 30th Street rail yards.

    If they can pull it off, it may be one of Philadelphia's most impressive developments in it's 300+ year history as a US city.

    Drexel now has an extensive double-plan in place for Philadelphia called, "Transforming the Modern Urban University + Drexel University Campus Master Plan." Both plans were recently presented as one, and were the findings of a year-long study to figure out how to best grow Drexel.

    For starters, and probably most important, Drexel wants to expand its student population by 1/3 over the next 7 years (from the mid-20,000 range to the mid-30,000 range). Accomplishing this will not only be a boon to University City, but to all of the burgeoning neighborhoods surrounding the university as well.

    Not to mention all of the additional jobs, housing, and retail that could/should follow a project of this size/scope.

    There are 4 main principles in the Master Plan:

    1. Distinguish Drexel's campus as a modern urban university district.
    2. Bring the campus to the street.
    3. Draw the community together around shared spaces.
    4. Expand the innovation community.

    Out of all 4 principles, I personally feel that #4 resonates the most for Philadelphia.

    Our city has changed greatly in the past 10 years, and it's starting to dictate where the city might be headed in the foreseeable future. I have written posts about "Philacon Valley," as well as dropping an informational perspective on the new Comcast Innovation + Technology Center, and I'm starting to see a pattern.

    Philadelphia is preparing itself for the new, urban, compact, shared tech economy.

    Location ... check.

    Dense city ... check.

    Good bones ... check.

    Public transportation ... check.

    One of the best higher-education systems in the world ... check.

    Annual population increases (with lots of millennials) ... check.

    Affordable cost-of-living, as compared to local, neighboring metropolises ... check.

    These are things people all over the world are interested in today, and it's why major metropolitan areas are growing at a rapid pace across the US. So it only makes sense for Drexel to play off of our city's strengths, and start planning for a future where skyscrapers may in fact sit above railroad tracks at 30th Street Station.

    Nothing wrong with dreaming big, Mr. Fry. Keep up the good work.
  • Morgan Hall has changed the face of Temple University

    Posted Under: Schools in Philadelphia, Home Buying in Philadelphia, Investment Properties in Philadelphia  |  September 5, 2013 11:13 AM  |  1,189 views  |  No comments
    A face lift for North Broad St

    Quite literally.

    A lot of people don't know this (including many Philadelphians), but Temple University is now home to over 35,000 students; that's a big number for a dense, urban campus. Now, not all of those students are undergraduates, but 35,000 is an impressive number nonetheless. For comparison's sake, UPenn has close to 25,000 students and Drexel also has close to 25,000 students.

    So, if University City has over 50,000 students (with just Penn and Drexel alone), what's next for the neighborhood in-around Temple's campus? My professional opinion is that TU will soon become a Philadelphia "mini-hub" (just like Center City, University City, and the Navy Yard have). It's only 2 miles from City Hall, it has a huge educational/medical/legal presence, and most of the campus has frontage on Broad St; all good things.

    As a Philadelphia based real estate agent, my job is to know the local market and educate my clients on what is happening in/around the city. In Philadelphia, colleges play a large role in the city's economic vitality. From student rentals to financial opportunities for real estate investors, Philadelphia's colleges have a large daily impact on the entire Philadelphia MSA.

    The reason I am blogging about this is because recent private/public development shows that the area in/around Temple is definitely on the rise.

    Since I was an undergraduate student at La Salle from 1997-2001, I like to compare how things are today to how they were when I was in college. And in my days as a student, Temple was more well known for commuting than living on/around campus. Reason being, TU only has enough on-campus housing for 5,000-7,500 students (the last I heard; so don't quote me on that, as the most recent figure was hard to locate), and you can't live on-campus as a Junior or Senior.

    This creates a huge off-campus housing opportunity for Temple's 35,000+ undergraduate/graduate students.

    All told, I think there are currently 12,000-15,000 TU students living on/around campus (again, don't quote me on that as the numbers seemed to vary from source to source). In the grand scheme of things, that's a pretty small number for a school of 35,000+. Which means there is more room for growth.

    This is a big reason why the Temple University area is doing so well from a real estate perspective. Demand is high, and supply is low. It wasn't until about 5 years ago that TU students created a strong, visible demand to live off/around campus; close enough to walk. Thus, real estate values have skyrocketed around TU in recent years (even during the downturn), and the boundaries for TU's off-campus student area are expanding every year.

    As you can also see from Temple's 20/20 Plan, there is even more in store for their main campus in the years ahead.

    Read the article about Morgan Hall, and learn how this university backed development project has changed the face of Temple forever.
  • University City ... meet "Drexification"

    Posted Under: General Area in Philadelphia, Schools in Philadelphia, Shopping & Local Amenities in Philadelphia  |  May 8, 2013 10:38 AM  |  908 views  |  No comments
    Long-term details for Drexel's "Campus Master Plan."

    Back in 2009, Philadelphia Weekly did a story on the changing residential/commercial/educational scene in University City.

    They called it "Penntrification."

    But isn't new development, with additional retail, a good thing for Philadelphia? My answer would be yes, but this one has layers.

    New development, good.

    New commercial, good.

    More jobs, good.

    More students coming to Philadelphia for a first class education, good.

    Small businesses suffering at the hands of larger corporations, bad.

    Now, we can argue this subject all day, but I do believe that smaller business are typically on the losing end when larger, franchise-y businesses move in. Just look at Walmart, if you need a good, widely known example.

    Again, my personal opinion.

    On the flip side, I'm also a firm believer in "if it ain't broker, break it." Businesses that choose not to change, just for the sake of fearing change, typically have a hard time surviving these days. Today, the level of change needed to keep a small business healthy will vary from one to the next, but overall all small businesses should constantly be looking at ways to improve their general business model. Whether that's new sales revenue, higher customer service, or better curb appeal, having a fresh look for a small business is critical to keeping today's customer loyal. That's because the common expectation is, "What have you done for me lately?"

    Drexel is now taking a page from Penn's book and planning ahead with an updated "Campus Master Plan." Most of what they are planning over the next few years seems very reasonable, and it should improve the neighborhood (i.e. new planters/benches, upgrades to existing buildings, etc).

    But if Penntrification was any lesson to the University of Pennsylvania, Drexification will need to plan a little better for the long haul if they want to see their plans through; without interference.
  • Philadelphia developer D3 introduces affordable housing for teachers

    Posted Under: General Area in Philadelphia, Schools in Philadelphia, Rentals in Philadelphia  |  April 24, 2013 9:22 AM  |  997 views  |  No comments

    That's right, you heard me correctly.

    Affordable housing is coming to Kensington, with about 60% of the units reserved for teachers/educators only, and another 20% reserved for other low-wage earners. It will be called Oxford Mills.

    Cool concept, and more positive news for development in Kensington (which seems to be on fire, as of late).

    For the most part, affordable housing in the US is typically geared toward those who are disabled, elderly, and/or qualify as low-income; and rightfully so. It's not everyday that you hear about an affordable housing project designed primarily for educators, and those who have recently graduated from college with a degree that will most likely start with lower-than-average wages; or as stated in the article, "newly minted professionals."

    But, it's happening; and it's happening in Philadelphia.

    D3 is looking to deliver loft-style units with exposed beams, high ceilings, large windows, and an architecturally pleasing facade. You know, the kind of units that fetch high rents in Philadelphia's growing neighborhoods. The best part is that they will be about 25% cheaper than comparable apartments (to those who qualify), which will compensate for the income level of its residents.


    This building also plans to set aside about 40,000 sq ft (close to SEPTA's public transportation; Hello, TOD) to house offices for start-ups, non-profits, and a new HQ for Teach for America.

    Overall, this project gets a thumbs up from me.
  • Cira Centre South plans for "The Grove"

    Posted Under: General Area in Philadelphia, Traffic & Public Transportation in Philadelphia, Schools in Philadelphia  |  February 27, 2013 1:41 PM  |  936 views  |  No comments
    Rendering of the 33-Story housing complex

    Well, it looks like Cira Centre South is finally about to break ground on 1 of the 2 proposed buildings for land right next to 30th Street Station.

    The Grove at Cira Centre South is a joint partnership between Brandywine Realty and Campus Crest Communities, and will be built on the premise that UPenn will fill it with student housing.

    What a great deal for all involved!

    Brandywine can finally get this project moving (with the hopes of starting another building, per the original plan), Campus Crest will get an opportunity to cash in on the Philadelphia student housing market, and the University of Pennsylvania gets a top-notch housing complex that it can market to both prospective and existing students.

    This is also great news for Philadelphia.

    More construction equals more jobs, and more money spent in the immediate area while it's being built, as well as when it has been completed. It also helps bridge the natural divide (aka The Schuylkill River) by continuing UPenn's eastern expansion plans.

    The cherry-on-top is that this project supports TOD, and will be located next to the 3rd busiest rail transit hub in the US (30th Street Station).
  • Can Drexel University create and build an "Innovation Neighborhood" ... over rail yards?

    Posted Under: General Area in Philadelphia, Schools in Philadelphia, Market Conditions in Philadelphia  |  November 28, 2012 2:07 PM  |  2,229 views  |  No comments
    Inside 30th Street Station

    It's a tall order, that's for sure.

    John Fry is Drexel's current president. He's also a former UPenn higher-up (behind then-president Judith Rodin), as well as Franklin & Marshall's former president. Despite not having the typical credentials of an esteemed university president (e.g. dean/provost job experience, research/teaching expertise, doctorate degree, etc.), Fry has catapulted his way to being the leader of one of the most respected universities in the US on an NYU MBA and good, old-fashioned entrepreneurial spirit; pretty impressive.

    So why does Fry want to build on top of Philadelphia rail yards?

    Is it because Chicago has done it successfully (e.g. Millennium Park)?

    Is it because both New York and DC are also in the planning stages of rail yard projects?

    My guess is no.

    Just look at where these rail yards are in Philadelphia. As you go east on the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76 East to all the the out-of-towners) and approach Center City, the yards are on the right next to 30th Street Station and the Cira Center. In other words, very prime Philadelphia real estate.

    The trick is can a platform be built, and enough new development created on top of it, to cover the cost of materials/labor (i.e. Philadelphia union labor)? That is what Fry is set on finding out, and a few million dollars says he'll have the answer to that question in about 2 years.

    I'll keep my eye out for further news on this topic.
  • Drexel continues its expansion

    Posted Under: Schools in Philadelphia  |  May 5, 2012 10:52 AM  |  988 views  |  No comments

    Right in the heart of their campus.

    This project has been in the works for some time now, and has actually already broken ground). It will fill a big void on an active block (right across the street from the Drexel Book Store and Mandell Theater).

    Once labeled as one of "America's Ugliest Campuses," the school has literally transformed an outdated, park-less, concrete area into a modern, green, world-class student town. Not only have these large investments brought in more students, but they have also encouraged lots of off-campus development by private investors to keep those students in the neighborhood.

    Jim Fry has truly picked up right where the late Constantine Papadakis left off.
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