Drexel University's newest housing complex won't have a dining commons or a study lounge. But it will have two floors of high-end day care and apartments at prices your typical undergrad would struggle to afford.
Administrators hope the $55 million 3201 Race St. project on university-owned land will provide homes and child care to a mix of faculty and staff and a yearned-for influx of researchers and techies with ties to the private sector, not necessarily the school itself.
The permanent year-round population of young professionals at the residential tower - and others like it to come - are part of Drexel's bid to tip the balance in its surrounding neighborhoods from gown toward town.
More housing will make it easier for big companies to staff their offices and labs after moving nearby, helping the university find jobs for its grads and licensees for its research, said Robert Francis, Drexel's vice president for university facilities.
It also will generate demand for the restaurants, bars, and other urban amenities needed to entice the country's most sought-after faculty and students, Francis said.
"3201 Race has very important strategic components to it, but they're not educational in nature," he said. "The larger backdrop is the consolidation of the world's economic growth into large urban areas. We're part of that trend."
The project is part of about 10 million square feet of construction planned by Drexel over the next two decades. Crews broke ground earlier this month on a 122-room on-campus hotel developed by New York-based Hospitality 3, which built a hotel in New Haven for visitors to Yale.
Drexel also is teaming with developer Wexford Science + Technology to transform a former high school site into a sprawling business and technology center with shops, homes, and a K-8 school.
Later phases anticipate turning a vast expanse of underused land between the university and 30th Street Station into a mixed-use district it calls an "Innovation Neighborhood."
When finished in about two years, 3201 Race will tower 16 stories of metal, glass, and off-white concrete over the station's train yard, affording clear views of the Center City skyline.
The first two floors will accommodate a day-care center, with space for up to 164 children. It will be operated by Hildebrandt Learning Centers, which runs two nearby facilities.
Though the project also includes 12 for-sale townhouses, most of its residents will live in the 164 one- and two-bedroom apartments, renting at about $1,800 and $2,400, according to David Yeager, president of Radnor Property Group, which is developing the site.
"We see that niche really being accommodated by the young professional," Yeager said. "And that's really catering to the demographic that works here."
Drexel's effort to attract and sustain a population beyond its transient-by-nature student body echoes actions by nearby University of Pennsylvania, which worked for decades to encourage private development around its campus. Drexel president John Fry presided over many of those initiatives when he was executive vice president at Penn.
The steps also reflect tightening bonds between academia and corporations nationwide, as companies grow more reliant on technology developed at university labs and the start-ups they spawn, said Joseph Reagan, a vice president at Wexford, which specializes in office and lab projects near urban campuses.
Technology and life-science companies want to be near this research, so they're closing in on universities themselves, creating demand for market-rate housing, Reagan said.
Companies such as Eli Lilly and NRG Energy, for example, have subsidiaries based at the University City Science Center, the business incubator and research development facility that partners with Drexel. FMC Corp., meanwhile, plans to move into a 49-story headquarters building being built nearby.
"We're attracting the kinds of businesses that want to be here, close to this labor market, close to the energy that's in University City," Drexel's Francis said.