A surface lot at 3001 Chestnut St. should be gone by this time next year, and we couldn’t be more tickled. This property is also known (by fewer and fewer people) as the former home of Abbott’s Dairy, a local dairy concern that closed down during the Reagan administration. The site was totally cleared about twenty years ago, and it’s been used as a parking lot ever since. Interestingly, the location being so close to the Schuylkill River means that the grade goes down pretty dramatically from east to west. So the parking lot is evident as you’re looking at it from the west, but toward 30th Street, it’s roughly a 10 foot drop from the sidewalk.
The fact that this property has been used as a surface parking lot for the last two decades is a pretty good indication of just how slowly things can move in this town, especially when you’re talking about sizable parcels that are well located. Add to the mix that the lot is owned by Drexel, it makes sense that things have moved at a measured pace. Incidentally, the property has been considered part of the Schuylkill Yards master plan, but according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Drexel will soon take the property in a different direction.
Spark Therapeutics is a biotech company with a mission of “discovering, developing and delivering gene therapies,” which intends to construct a manufacturing plant at this location. This building will include 500K sqft of space and will cost about $575M to construct. That’s, uh, a lot. Spark already has office space in three other West Philadelphia locations, employing about 800 people, and the article indicates that Spark is planning to double its local workforce over the next half decade. Spark will keep its other office spaces, and essentially create a production line, with “gene therapy research, process development, and manufacturing” all occurring within a few blocks in West Philadelphia.
Spark won’t be buying the land, but will enter into a 99-year ground lease with Drexel, ostensibly with some options for after 2122. Drexel and Spark will also enter into additional partnerships, furthering the life sciences program at the school and maybe providing an internship pipeline, to boot. It’s cool that this project will bookend the eastern side of Drexel’s campus, while other life science and innovation companies are operating on the other side, as part of uCity Square. It’s starting to feel like, after years of chasing Cambridge as an entrepreneurship and biotech hub, West Philadelphia is making some real progress in that regard – and this project will only help push that ball forward.