It was a festive occasion yesterday for the Drexel University community as well as University City.

Drexel president Constantine Papadakis and Gen. Jessica L. Wright of the Pennsylvania National Guard signed a 50-year lease that gave the school the go-ahead to turn the Philadelphia Armory into a basketball arena and convocation center.

The event was held at the armory, which is on 33d street, across the street and one block up from the 2,300-seat Daskalakis Athletic Center, where the Dragons' men's and women's teams now play.

Drexel's new home court, which could be ready for use in 30 months if everything falls into place, will have a capacity of around 5,000.

"It's important for Drexel and Drexel athletics because, being in an urban environment, it's very hard to build arenas," said Drexel athletic director Eric Zilmer.

Drexel will begin managing the 92-year-old building in the fall. The National Guard will maintain administrative offices there.

Funding for Drexel's project, which will transform the armory's drill hall, will begin soon.

"We need to retain a construction management firm and engineer and architect to find out what the price is for this kind of building," Zilmer said.

Bruiser Flint, the Drexel men's coach, and women's coach Denise Dillon attended the event.


The armory was the site for Drexel's home games from 1969 to 1975, when the Dragons were members of the Mid-Atlantic and East Coast Conferences. . . . Construction will begin in June on an 84,000-foot addition to the Daskalakis Athletic Center.

Contact staff writer Kevin Tatum at 215-854-2583 or