science center

Plans still coming into focus for huge site

In the last few years, we've seen major redevelopment in University City, like the 3737 Market development, an 11-story office building with ground-floor retail and the still-under-construction 3737 Chestnut tower. While those projects have clearly coming into focus, plans for the future of University City High School at 3601 Filbert St. are still becoming clear.

The shuttered school

University City High School sits on a massive parcel of land between Lancaster and Filbert, 36th and 38th Streets. The Walnut Center and Drew Elementary also once shared this parcel, but Drew was razed earlier this year and TWC before that. When we passed the site last week, rubble was piled like junk heaps across the site. UCHS has yet to be demolished, but it's coming. Last year we wrote about plans from Drexel and Wexford Science and Technology, who envisioned a major mixed-use development on the site. Those plans included the vision of a new public school. According to Niki Gianakis, of Drexel, the abatement of the University City High School building is continuing and the actual demolition will start in mid-April.

Vacant lot was like a football field

The 400 block of N. 40th St. in University City has experienced a dramatic change in the last several years. As recently as 2009, the western side of the block was dominated by a collection of vacant lots, until a couple of apartments buildings went up a couple of years ago. Still, a huge vacant lot loomed immediately to the north. That lot is now in the process of filling in on both 40th and Wiota Streets. 

Back in 2009

When we visited this block a few days ago, there was new construction happening all the way up the northern half of the block, until the corner parcel, where there stands a church. A couple of years ago, the huge lot we mentioned above was subdivided into seven lots with four fronting 40th Street and three fronting Wiota Street. Currently, three of the four lots on 40th St. are under construction and two of the Wiota lots are getting built. It will be quadplexes on 40th St. and triplexes on Wiota. At first we thought that the vacant middle parcels might be parking access, but it seems that's not the case.

As Drexel University and the Penn continue to expand, as well as USciences and the University City Science Center, the neighborhood housing equation continues to change. We've covered numerous examples in the past of new construction and renovation pushing northward, into West Powelton and Mantua, with some blocks gaining tons of new structures in a very short period of time.

Take, for example, the 4000 block of Baring Street in West Powelton, which burst into our development consciousness in the last couple of years like an awakening.  More than 30 new units have been created along this block since 2011, and most recently, we were not at all surprised to find that two triplexes and one duplex are under construction between 4042-52 Baring St. at  the southeast intersection of Budd & Baring, across the street from the Elwyn Adult Program center.

Renovation activity at the Western Plaza at 30th Street Station is poised to give The Porch a new companion. But where there's been a chain link construction fence to the west of the Porch for months, there is now a temporary green wall.

“It really bothered me,” said Nate Hommel, capital projects manager at University City District, about the views of construction fences offered to visitors and passersby of the Porch by current construction. “We wanted to see what we could do to give it some new life.”

Greening the fences

The folks at UCD got to work in December thinking about how to transform the site. Last week, twelve creative construction modules were installed at the Porch side of 30th Street Station along the construction fence that runs for about fifty yards. The modules are nine-foot tall planters and include shrubbery at all eye-levels. The modules also include a graphic backdrop and tiered planting wall made of backerboard. They are self-supporting, as well, not touching the construction fence.

Market Street in West Philadelphia is undergoing a facelift. That means both new towers and new tenants realized through development by major institutions. Example A: the Science Center recently announced plans to construct its first residential tower ever at 3601 Market St., and has already broken ground at 3737 Market St. on an 11-story tower with office space, retail, and new beds for Penn Presbyterian. Example B: The City recently demolished a string of mixed-use buildings near 46th & Market, right next to the El Station to make way for an development from the Enterprise Center.