Work will start this falll on the 28-story, 375-apartment, metal-and-glass tower that Nashville-based Southern Land Co. plans to build at 3601 Market St., on a site owned by University City Science Center adjoining Penn and Drexel, now that the developer has won a loan committment from M&T Bank, the Buffalo-based lender that has been stepping up its Philadelphia-area loans since buying the failing Wilmington Trust Corp. three years ago.

M&T debt will join Redwood Capital Investment equity in paying for the $110 million project, according to a written statement by Southern Land principal Dustin Downey today. BLT Architects (BLTa) of Philadelphia is sketching out "an initial design concept by Gund Partnership" for 443,000 sq ft of housing and stores. This is a big departure for the 17-acre science center, which has mostly built and rented offices and labs over the past 50 years in an attempt to convince medical and engineering companies developed by Penn and Drexel scholars from leaving the city for greener suburban sites.

Philadelphia has no particular shortage of offices; Center City office rents are mostly stuck at 1980s levels. But apartment demand has been strong; rents at the new building will range from $1,300-$2,800 a month, spanning studios, 1- and 2-bedroom units, and pehthouses. There'll be a sixth-floor pool, 200 parking spaces, 15,000 sq ft of ground-floor retail space.

Center chief Stephen Tang has said growing firms are looking for nearby high-quality housing before committing to sites, so the high-rise, one of several high-end University City residential projects slated for the next couple of years, should make UCity offices more competitive. In the suburbs, Lower Merion, East Whiteland, Conshohocken and other communities have lately made it easier to build apartments near offices in hopes of luring more jobs, reversing past divisions between work and home zones and reflecting current urbanist thinking.