With plans for an 11-story life sciences lab building on campus, Drexel University is approaching the model seen at other institutions where academics and commerce coexist, Drexel president John Fry said Tuesday.
Gattuso Development Partners said this week it planned to build “the city’s largest life sciences research and laboratory building” on the Drexel campus, a $400 million project on the 3200 block of Cuthbert Street that would erect a 500,000-square-foot facility on what is now athletic fields. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with completion slated for 2024.
The project is the latest in Philadelphia’s development shift toward life sciences. There are millions of square feet of announced projects as the office sector struggles after the pandemic. Mosaic Development Partners and Ensemble Real Estate Investments recently joined with Oxford Properties Group with a plan to jointly own and develop 3 million square feet of life science properties at the Navy Yard.
Developers also unveiled last year a plan to rehab the long-dormant Budd Co. Hunting Park plant for life sciences.
In December, Spark, a subsidiary of Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant Roche Group, announced a $575 million gene-therapy manufacturing plant on Drexel’s campus. Spark signed a 99-year ground lease on the university’s Lot F parking lot at the intersection of 30th and Chestnut Streets. Terms were not disclosed.
With its various projects, Drexel can align the university’s work-focused co-op education with commercial entities, Fry said. Drexel also has benefited financially with more than $100 million in prepaid ground leases that will be invested for the university’s endowment, he said.
Vigilant Real Estate Holdings, in New York, and the Baupost Group, a Boston investment firm, are equity investors in the Gattuso Development project, according to a news release.
John Gattuso, cofounder and chief executive officer at Gattuso Development Partners, said that Philadelphia has emerged as a viable center for gene-therapy companies behind Boston and San Francisco.
Robert A.M. Stern Architects has designed the proposed building that will be located next to the Armory. Drexel plans to lease 60,000 of the 500,000-square-foot proposed life sciences complex. Tenants, including Drexel, have committed to leasing 55% of the building’s available space, according to a statement.
At Liberty Property Trust, Gattuso was responsible for developing the two Comcast Corp. towers in Center City, Philadelphia’s tallest office buildings with about 3 million square feet of space.
Gattuso and several others of Liberty Property Trust’s urban development team broke off and created the new firm, located in the Navy Yard. Liberty concentrated its business on warehouses over time until Prologis Inc., a logistics company, bought Liberty for $13 billion in early 2020.
Gattuso said Tuesday that the project had started the permit process. He believes ultimately that up to a half dozen companies could be tenants.
“I’m very excited. This has been the culmination of ten years of work,” Fry said of the projects, including the Gattuso partnership. “It will make Philadelphia more competitive.”