Spotlight on University City: University City is the region’s leader in education, science, and innovation. The 2.4 square mile neighborhood boasts worldclass institutions that have catalyzed over 85,000 jobs in fields including medicine, higher education, technology, real estate, and hospitality, and is a national leader in the life sciences sector. University City is a destination for culture seekers and food lovers, a transportation hub with some of the most bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly streets in the city, and is home to the most significant development projects in the region. With diverse demographics, a blend of housing and rental options, topnotch schools and hospitals, and amenities galore, University City is one of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods of choice.
Real Estate Development: Accelerated growth, rapid transformation, and continued investment remain the story in University City’s real estate sector, which continues to thrive despite disruptions due to COVID-19. Progress on major residential, institutional, public space, and mixed-use projects marked another busy year of groundbreakings, topping outs, and ribbon cuttings in the neighborhood. In the past year, significant progress has been made on three major long-term projects: uCity Square, Schuylkill Yards, and Amtrak’s 30th Street Master Plan. Other key developments, including the newly opened Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 3.0 and 4.0 University Place, and new buildings on the campus of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have made major strides toward completion, and plans for multiple large-scale projects aim to transform several blocks of Chestnut Street west of 40th. All told, these investments, totaling over 11.1 million square feet of development in the pipeline, continue to set University City apart as a major regional hub for employment, research, and places to live.
Employment: New development and institutional expansions contribute to University City’s continued status as a top regional employment hub. In 2021, over 25,000 jobs at anchor employers were posted, smashing previous records. Nearly 75% of jobs in University City pay over $40,000 a year, as compared to just over 50% for Philadelphia as a whole. University City accounts for just under 12% of all jobs within Philadelphia, despite representing only 1.69% of the city’s total footprint. A large percentage of jobs are found at the local hospitals and universities, including 600 positions at Penn’s newly opened Pavilion hospital, but growth associated with nascent technology firms and commercialization of research is also creating more employment opportunities at every rung of the career ladder.
Office: University City is home to nearly 5 million square feet of office space, with another 770,000 square feet currently under construction, and was recently ranked 3rd on a list of top growing tech submarkets in North America according to CBRE. Major long-term projects including Schuylkill Yards, 3.0 and 4.0 University Place, and additional buildings at uCity Square are adding to this robust total. In Q3 of 2021, University City commercial real estate was leased at a percentage of 92.7%, good for the highest occupancy rate of all Philadelphia submarkets, and its asking gross rent of $45.74 per square foot is the highest in the region, displaying the continued desirability of doing business in University City. Because of the dominance of offices dedicated to the life sciences, University City’s office buildings fared better than many others during the pandemic, and workers returned at a higher rate in University City than in other parts of the region. Our neighborhood’s amenities and offerings have attracted companies like GSK, convinced Cambridge Innovation Center to double its lab space, and continually attract new investors, developers, and companies
Retail and Hospitality: Local and national retailers, restaurants, and hotel operators have long viewed University City as a prime location due to an eclectic mix of employees, commuters, college students, and residents. With help from grants, governmental support, creative offerings, new outdoor dining initiatives, and the generosity and support of loyal customers, many businesses have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and employees have begun returning to University City’s streets at levels equal to and sometimes exceeding numbers from before the pandemic, and new businesses ranging from an Ethiopian market to an upscale plant store with discount prices to a short-term hotel have opened in the past year. Barring additional setbacks, the future looks rosy for more businesses and customers down the road.
Higher Education: True to its name, University City offers top options in the region and nation for undergraduate and graduate studies. More than 52,000 students are enrolled in the neighborhood’s five institutions of higher education. Students from around the country and the globe are drawn to the proximity to employment opportunities, the beautiful campuses, the vitality of the surrounding community, and the varied housing inventory. Both the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University fared well in recent U.S. News & World Report rankings, with Penn ranking #13 in a list of best global universities and in the top ten for economics and business and in several science concentrations, while Drexel excelled in similar lists for top undergraduate teaching, undergraduate engineering programs, and most innovative schools.
Healthcare: The neighborhood’s medical institutions—Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center—combine to account for nearly 38% of all jobs in University City, making them an essential component of the local economy. Both CHOP and HUP receive annual accolades for quality of care and as top national workplaces: in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report rankings of hospitals, CHOP finished #2 for top hospitals for children, while HUP placed #13 for adults, and each ranked in the top 100 of America’s best large employers according to Forbes. Our local hospitals are also leading the way in new treatments, procedures, and medical technologies, and with the addition of the Pavilion, the new facility from Penn Medicine that opened its doors on November 1, 2021, there’s much more to come.
Life in the Neighborhood: What makes a neighborhood a great place to live? For University City, it’s fantastic amenities, an excellent dining scene, diverse housing options, world-class transit, parks and public spaces aplenty, and communities with distinct personalities. Options for housing are as varied as the residents, with historic homes, walk-up apartments, stylish high-rises, dormitories, and more. Over 100 acres of public space and parks with abundant outdoor seating offer respite from the city streets and places for people to relax, recharge, and spread out. An eclectic dining scene offers plenty of options, including long-standing mom-and-pop restaurants, cuisine from around the globe, and outposts for local and national chains. University City boasts a robust arts and culture scene, including theaters, art galleries, and local dance and performance groups. The streets, sidewalks, and transit stations combine to offer excellent options for traveling within the neighborhood or to points beyond, and the neighborhood scores well annually as a location for walking, biking, and transit according to Walkscore.com. Local schools earn annual accolades, including a second Blue Ribbon School designation for Penn Alexander, and this year the new $38 million Powel/Science Leadership Academy Middle School (PSLAMS) opened at 3610 Warren Street. Active neighborhood associations and community groups inject unique character and civic pride in smaller sub-neighborhoods, and have proven a continually valuable resource for the community in times of need.
Innovation: University City is nationally recognized as a hub for advances in science, research, and medicine. Cutting-edge innovations originate out of 1.86 million square feet of lab space in research hubs like the Wistar Institute, Pennovation, Drexel’s ic@3401, uCity Square, and Schuylkill Yards. This confluence of labs, benches, and clinics contributed to Philadelphia ranking at #7 in top life sciences clusters in the United States according to CBRE, who also dubbed University City the region’s hottest life sciences neighborhood. Discoveries initiated in University City spark billions of dollars in economic growth and attract international attention in fields like biotech, robotics, and medicine. In 2020, 207 patents were issued to University City businesses and institutions, which also accounted for over $800 million in NIH funding and $1.85 billion in R&D spending, up 51% from five years ago. In 2021, nearly 400 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were administered in the United States using messenger RNA delivery, a process developed in 2005 by Penn researchers Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman that has opened the possibility for additional mRNA vaccines capable of eradicating countless other diseases.
Transportation Planning: Each year, UCD works with partners to address transportation issues including traffic congestion, transit routing, and bike and pedestrian safety. UCD, major institutions, local developers, the City, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission work together on a Transportation Management Association (TMA) that serves the neighborhood. This association formalizes work these partners have done for nearly two decades and opens new lanes to improve how people and goods get around. Together with SEPTA, the TMA operates the Loop through University City (LUCY) bus that carries hundreds of thousands of passengers each year from 30th Street Station to nearby jobs. In 2021, we worked with SEPTA to help address rider safety concerns tied to COVID-19, and with bikeshare program Indego to research and implement new stations for their bike docks. Moving forward, the TMA will continue to assist in projects aimed at improving every mode of transit to benefit residents and commuters.
Road to Recovery: The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all aspects of our daily lives, including how we work, travel, and gather with others. As a society we’ve dealt with major impacts to small businesses, colleges and universities, and across our local economy, and we’ve been forced to make pivots and adjustments to deal with infection rates and variants, social unrest, and vaccination rollouts. As 2021 comes to a close, there are reasons to feel optimistic about University City’s ability to recover.
—University City District
To read the full report, visit https://issuu.com/universitycity/docs/the_state_of_university_city_2022.