Temple U. joins Phila. building boom with $1B plan
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PHILADELPHIA -- An ambitious 10-year plan to remake the urban campus of Temple University has created a powerful trifecta of college-based economic development that civic leaders hope will benefit Philadelphia as a whole, not just students.
Temple's new $1.2 billion framework is seen by some as another bright spot for a cash-strapped city battling a weak economy, and particularly for the struggling North Broad Street corridor that runs through the heart of the university.
The venture dovetails with long-term growth plans at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, all of which are designed to "merge the energy of the institution with the energy of the city," said Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development.
"All these institutions and the city itself do better when there are more powerful interconnections between them," Mr. Greenberger told the Associated Press. "When those things happen, the private sector takes notice and starts doing investment to fill the gaps."
The schools, which are among the city's largest employers, collectively serve more than 85,000 students.
Temple's "20/20" plan, which Mr. Greenberger worked on as an architect before joining the mayor's office, aims to create a more vibrant university through new academic and athletic facilities, a new library and a 1,500-bed dormitory with retail and dining. It will also increase green space on the largely concrete campus about two miles north of downtown.
Construction has already begun on several projects, paid for with state funding, philanthropy and university money.
Colin Saltry, president of Temple's student Senate, said he's both thrilled and disappointed since the "21st-century campus" won't be finished in time for him to enjoy it.
"I think it would be a great draw for future students," said Mr. Saltry, 20, of Scranton.
University President Ann Weaver Hart, sensitive to residents who fear further encroachment on their neighborhood, stressed that all new development is within Temple's existing footprint.
At least three community groups expressed support for the new residence hall in letters to City Council last month, saying conflicts with students over parking, noise and trash would lessen if they moved back on campus.
But state Sen. Shirley Kitchen remained skeptical of the overall plan, noting years of economic stagnation in the low-income area around Temple despite the school's recent growth.
"It can help us if the neighborhood is included," said Ms. Kitchen, who represents the area. "People just don't really believe that something good is going to happen for us at the same time the university's expanding."
Temple officials say they have hired more than 1,300 community residents in the last five years; the new dorm will create another 110 permanent jobs. The state-related university will also seek local and minority-owned businesses as retail tenants, spokesman Ray Betzner said.
Across town in west Philadelphia, Penn is about four years into a 30-year, $6 billion plan to overhaul its campus. The first phase included expansion of medical facilities and a new academic building; Penn Park, a $40 million project designed as a gateway from downtown to the Ivy League school, is expected to open in fall 2011.
Next door to Penn, Drexel boasts improved recreation facilities and two new dorms as part of its five-year, $500 million plan. Construction continues on a new science building and will soon begin on a business school; a hotel component is on hold until the economy strengthens. Drexel's next campus master plan, spanning 25 years, will be released late this year.
A survey released in December by the nonprofit Campus Philly, which is designed to attract, engage and retain college students, found that half of the respondents said the city of Philadelphia was an important factor in deciding where they applied to school.
"Our educational institutions are realizing that their success rises or falls with the city's success as a whole," Campus Philly President Deborah Diamond said. "It's going to be a rising tide that lifts all boats."
First Published January 3, 2011 12:00 am