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University City plan includes talks on grocery store

A new Wexford development is coming to 39th and Market Streets, bringing laboratory space as well as a grocery store to University City.

A rendering, viewed from the northwest, of the Wexford development proposed for Market Street between 38th and 39th Streets in University City.
A rendering, viewed from the northwest, of the Wexford development proposed for Market Street between 38th and 39th Streets in University City.Read moreWexford Science + Technology

The construction boom in University City is continuing with plans for a new life sciences research complex and grocery store on Market Street between 39th and 38th Streets. The space is now a surface parking lot. The contested University City Townhomes affordable housing complex is immediately to the west.

The building is being proposed by Wexford Science + Technology, Drexel University’s real estate development partner, and is an outgrowth of a pattern of redevelopment extending up Market Street from 30th Street Station.

Wexford declined to comment on the project, but a highly placed source in the company said that it was in active negotiations with a grocery store operator that would be new to West Philadelphia.

This latest development is part of a wave of proposed and actualized chain supermarkets across greater Center City and University City. The boundaries of the University City District, which stretch to 52nd Street, already contain an Acme, an Aldi, a Supremo, the Mariposa Food Co-op, and Giant’s urban Heirloom spin-off.

It is also part of a boom in the local life sciences industry. These spaces are seen as a safer bet than traditional office space while remote work is disrupting this long established commercial real estate sector. University City is one of the key nodes of laboratory space in the region, outstripping rivals in the Navy Yard, the suburbs, and Center City.

The project would be divided into two phases. The first would border 39th Street and comprises a 13-story building that includes 225,000 square feet of lab and office space on six floors. Below that would be a five-floor parking garage with 500 spaces. On the ground floor would be two retail spaces totaling 24,000 square feet — one the grocery store and the other a café and public space that would be open between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The second phase would border 38th Street and would be a taller building with 330,000 square feet of lab and office space, 280 parking spaces, and 15,000 square feet of retail. That one would go into development after the first phase.

The project requires a special exemption from the Zoning Board of Adjustment for the aboveground parking component. The registered community organization for the area, the West Powelton Saunders Park RCO, supports the project.

“The community at large actually are looking forward to having a supermarket there,” said Pam Andrews, chair of the West Powelton RCO, based on her survey of local residents about the project. “That’s not anything they were opposed to, and they didn’t really have any concerns with the design, either.”

Andrews said the community wants a traffic study conducted to see how the new building would affect congestion. Neighborhood residents also want “consistent minority hiring,” training opportunities for neighborhood youth, and free parking and access to meeting rooms for local organizations.

“We want community people who live in the area to be able to get jobs and long-term employment,” Andrews said.

The plans that The Inquirer reviewed for the site include notes about a variety of design and construction companies owned by women and other underrepresented groups that are involved in the proposal, including Philadelphia-based Webco Construction and Blue Bell-based Drive Engineering.

Assuming that Wexford is able to obtain a special exemption from the zoning board, construction is expected to commence early next year.

The project is also expected to be reviewed by the Civic Design Review committee, a panel of planners, architects, and developers who offer nonbinding critiques of major development projects. Wexford hopes that review is to be Nov. 1.