Drexel University president John Fry's ambitious plan to create a high-rise, work-study-shop-and-hang-out district around his expanding West Philly campus advanced Monday: Drexel and Baltimore developer James R. Berens' Wexford Science & Technology L.L.C. said they had completed their $25.15 million purchase of the former University City High School campus from Philadelphia's cash-poor school district.
The partners plan to replace the school buildings with a billion dollars' worth of "residential, retail and recreational space, as well as laboratory and research office space and parking," and maybe a K-8 school, the university said in a statement.
Fry hopes companies that employ Drexel students under its six-month "co-op" corporate placement program will open offices there, close to Drexel dorms and private student housing.
While other private colleges are struggling to attract students, Fry is using the popularity of the pay-as-you-go co-op to try to boost Drexel enrollment by one-third over the next few years, to around 35,000.
A new Drexel building and the possible new school will fill about a third of the U City site, with private development on the rest.
Fry projects all the buildings will total 2.7 million square feet, roughly double the space in each of Philadelphia's tallest office towers.
The Wexford firm has also developed four high-rise projects in the 3500 and 3700 blocks of Market Street for the University City Science Center.
New Jersey, which has to give away buckets of money to get businesses to move there, found that wasn't enough for Alan Levin.
Levin chose instead to expand Northeast Building Products, the vinyl-window and fiberglass-and-steel entry-door company he runs, with a new plant at the site of auto-parts supplier Cardone Industries' former facility at 327 E. Chew Ave. in Philadelphia's Olney section. Levin said Monday that he's buying the ex-Cardone works for $1.75 million.
"Pennsauken made a nice run at us. But we decided to stay in Philly," Levin said. "I'm born and raised here. I went to Northeast High School."
He did not demand Philadelphia and Pennsylvania match Jersey's taxpayer giveaways?
"We try to be as independent as we can," Levin said.
His company, whose past clients include federal agencies as well as commercial builders, currently employs 330 in the city. Northeast plans to add around 50 over the next three years at the 170,000 square-foot, eight-acre site, said Richard Gorodesky, senior vice president at Colliers International, which brokered the sale.
Cardone employs around 2,300 in the city, down from around 4,000 in the mid-2000s. The company has moved production to plants in low-wage South Texas and Mexico. But Cardone still plans to keep its headquarters, battery-making for hybrid cars, research and other high-end functions in the city, says Pete Peterson, a spokesman for the company.
Northeast plans to keep its other Philadelphia plants as it adds the Chew Avenue complex, except for 19,000 square feet at 4926 Benner St., which Colliers is selling.