Penn’s 23-acre South Bank campus is located on the former DuPont site between 34th St. & Grays Ferry Ave., and the Grays Ferry Crescent section of the Schuylkill River Trail park just south of the Schuylkill River where the river makes a turn before the Grays Ferry Bridge and continues south towards Bartram’s Garden and the airport. This campus represents a long-term redevelopment vision that also serves an immediate need.

Current entrance

Aerial view

A master plan for a long-term vision of the South Bank campus, which Penn acquired for about $13M in 2010, is expected to be completed by Wallace Todd Roberts this fall. That could include plans for how to develop streets and blocks on the campus, and potential redevelopment of parcels along the waterfront. Those type of improvements could be five to ten years away, and occur in increments just as long, according to Ed Datz, executive director of real estate at Penn.

Preliminary land use concepts

Penn officials envision technology and other startup companies could be drawn to the 200K sqft of reclaimable lab, warehouse and storage space available at South Bank. Some of the companies might be generated through UPStart, Penn’s technology startup company incubator. A few companies like KMEL Robotics, which develops experimental robotics, are already located in the campus. Thus far about 50K sqft of space is occupied, according to Paul Sehnert, director of real estate development at Penn.

“It’s taken us a while to first of all understand the space … and then how to communicate it to [the] market,” said Sehnert. More of those questions will be addressed in the forthcoming master plan.

Conceptual drawing of reuse of existing buildings and construction of new ones

In addition to the lab space and redevelopment possibilities, the campus also answers the immediate need for additional storage space. It serves a parking need for many of the school’s transit vehicles, which were previously located where the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology is now being constructed along the 3200 block of Walnut Street.

Rendering of the entrance some years from now

The South Bank Campus’ front yard is essentially the Grays Ferry Crescent Trail. Compound that with the recent Lower Schuylkill Master Plan to revitalize six miles of river that’s stretches from the Grays Ferry Bridge to the airport, and a few decades from now this underutilized strip of the river might be home to new development and a hub of innovative companies. And as far as the surrounding Grays Ferry neighborhood goes, we’re guessing that it too will see considerable new interest and development in the coming decades, as the South Bank Campus grows and slowly reaches its potential.

–Lou Mancinelli