Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series of six profiles of winners of NCPPP’s 2016 National Public-Private Partnership Awards, which recognize organizations and individuals who have gone above and beyond to advance the concept and implementation of P3s across the country. The winners were honored during P3Connect 2016 in Chicago.
John Fry faced a tough challenge when he became president of Drexel University in 2010: Find an affordable way to build housing on the university’s main campus that concurrently would accommodate and appeal to the large number of students living off campus in West Philadelphia. Doing so would help to integrate these students more fully into university life and free up neighborhood housing for local residents who needed it. But the obvious solution — building suites and apartments where students would enjoy living rather than traditional dorm rooms — was an expensive proposition. How could the university pull off this plan without incurring massive debt? The solution Drexel devised was a public-private partnership with American Campus Communities.
The resulting five-year, three-phased $345 million P3, for which American Campus Communities provided all funding, has resulted in the development of more than 1.4 million square feet of property and increased Drexel’s housing portfolio by almost 80 percent, adding 3,200 residential beds. The project also has introduced more than 60,000 square feet of urban retail space and restored the cohesiveness of neighborhoods that had been interrupted by the high number of transient student rentals and now feature more residential homes, schools, parks and community spaces.
In the first phase, American Campus Communities developed modern student housing and retail shops along the heavily trafficked Chestnut Street corridor on the edge of campus. The developer provided all equity — $100.7 million — for the project, which features two eight-story buildings with an attached 19-story high-rise residential tower containing 861 on-campus beds. Built on a 51-foot-deep site, the development gives a new front to adjacent 1960s-era buildings and has restored the street’s urban vitality. The Chestnut Square project, which opened on time in fall 2013 and has exceeded 98 percent occupancy since it was finished, received the top award from the Urban Land Institute’s Philadelphia district council in 2015.
The second phase of the partnership included the redevelopment and complete refurbishment of a 1920s-era, 14-story high-rise office building on Drexel’s campus that originally was used by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The building’s lower levels have been redesigned for use as university administrative offices topped by 1,015 beds of modern student housing.
The third phase of the project consists of a 24-story high-rise apartment building containing 1,315 student beds and a 20,000-square-foot dining facility. The building’s north wing transitions into an area that accommodates townhomes and walk-up flats above 20,000 square feet of street-level retail and connects directly to a local neighborhood along Philadelphia’s historic Lancaster Avenue. This project is a finalist for the Urban Land Institute’s Philadelphia district council’s top award this year.
This three-project P3 has transformed the Drexel campus into a vibrant, mixed-use development with high-quality student housing, retail, dining and academic offices, while helping to meet the demand for housing in surrounding communities. American Campus Communities’ ability and willingness to fully fund these projects allowed the university to use the money it has saved to strengthen its pursuit of its academic mission.
In acknowledgement of this project, which expanded on-campus student housing while helping to revitalize the surrounding community, NCPPP presented its Innovation Project Award to the Transformational Mixed-Use Developments at Drexel University and the partners behind it: Drexel University and American Campus Communities.