Frequently Asked Questions

What is Penn Connects?

Penn Connects is the University’s 30 year campus development plan. It underscores Penn’s commitment to applying the highest standard in land planning, architecture and urban design, historic preservation and real estate development to beautify, and build strong physical connects with our campus , while supporting the physical and socio-economic quality of the neighborhood , city, and region.

Penn Connects is a land use and urban design plan developed to maximize this once-in-a-century opportunity to redefine Penn as a premier urban research university. The acquisition of the U.S. Post Office properties provides and unprecedented opportunity to transform the Penn campus. By expanding the campus to the east Penn replaces a 24-acre industrial zone with new vibrant uses that will transform the campus and create new opportunities for teaching, research/clinical practice and student life. The University, for the first time in its history, will establish a major physical presence along the Schuylkill River corridor, create new gateways and establish new connections with surrounding communities, and build stronger physical links between the campus and Center City.

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Why does Penn need more space?

Universities expand as new buildings are needed to meet the demands in teaching and research space, residential halls, and new space to accommodate athletic and cultural amenities. The acquisition of the postal lands by Penn provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure 24 acres of land that affords Penn the real estate to grow slowly and steadily towards Center City, without having an adverse affect on the residents and businesses of West Philadelphia.

In 1872 Penn’s leaders moved the University from 9th and Chestnut Street, where it occupied two buildings, to west of the Schuylkill River on eight acres of land it purchased from the City. Since then, Penn’s campus has been evolving and growing to accommodate Penn’s role as a major urban research university.

Penn currently sits on 290 contiguous acres; home to 14 million square feet of buildings, has an enrollment of 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students, and is the largest private employer in Philadelphia, second in the State, and has an annual $9.6 billion economic impact on the State.

One of the great benefits of this acquisition is that it allows Penn to add continuous land to its campus, without displacing any residents or businesses, and simultaneously mitigate an outdated industrial landscape that has for years separated a thriving campus and thriving Center City.

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Where are the Postal Lands and how big an area is this?

Penn is planning for an expansion into the former industrial zone that was once home to the Southeastern Pennsylvania regional shipping center for the U.S. Post Office. The Post Office has moved its shipping operation closer to the Philadelphia International Airport. This area totals 24 acres and is bound to the east by the Schuylkill Expressway, Market Street to the North, South Street to the South and Penn’s campus to the West.

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How would the University use this expansion?

The long term plans can be found throughout this website, but in summary include a mix of open space, playing fields, and new buildings for uses such as office, residential, retail, teaching and research and arts and culture.

The plan seeks to establish a vibrant, new urban gateway to University City, while providing local economic opportunity and civic and cultural life. It provides a new platform for the University to engage locally with the community.

The University's proposed expansion is a long-term plan that wouldn't be completed until the year 2030, and philosophically rooted in the idea of flexibility. Penn cannot know today all the new areas of learning and discovery that might arise decades into the future.

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Are there immediate plans for the postal lands?

While the planning has been active since 2005, the acquisition became official in July 2007. Phase one includes replacing the 14 acres of surface parking lots that lie between the Expressway, Walnut Street, Campus and South Street with fields for college athletics, an open urban park, and pathways that allow for easier access into and through the area.

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Will the new playing fields and parks be open to the public, or be considered private land?

The open space will be open to the public, however Penn facilities such as classrooms, libraries, labs, etc. require proper identification for entry.

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Does the new focus on the east campus mean less investment in the west side where it meets the residential neighborhood?

Not at all, and Penn is dedicated to the West Philadelphia community it proudly calls home. The investments in West Philadelphia take multiple forms. For example, there are the new commercial developments at 39th and Walnut, 40th and Chestnut and along the 40th Street corridor.

However, Penn’s commitment to its surrounding neighborhood is evident in its ongoing support of the University City District to keep the area well lit, clean, safe and attractive, and the ongoing support of the Penn-Alexander Elementary School, Lea Elementary and the Sayre High School.

The University invests in programs dedicated to health care such as the Life Program operated by the School of Nursing on behalf of senior citizens, as well as programs run by the Dental School.

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How would Penn integrate the postal lands with the rest of the University?

The plan envisions attractive pathways that connect the new land to the core of campus. Several of these pathways are planned in an east west fashion, including a staircase that bridges the SEPTA tracks that bisect the area. There are also pathways and roadways planned that travel north south, to better connect Walnut and South Street. In addition, the density of new development around 30th and Walnut Street will fill in many blank space and create a more urban and compact neighborhood of buildings between 30th and 33rd.

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Will any buildings be preserved?

There is only one historically significant structure on the postal lands, the main post office building at 30th and Market Street. The university assigned its ownership of the building to Brandywine Realty Trusts for redevelopment into office space. The other buildings are not historically significant, and will be demolished to make way for appropriate redevelopment. The other main building is the Truck Terminal Annex at 30th Street between chestnut and Walnut, which will be torn down and redeveloped.

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Is the main building classified by historic designations and is the plan to preserve the building?

The building is protected by historic designation and the plan is to preserve it as a great piece of architecture from Philadelphia’s City Beautiful movement of the 1930s such as 30th Street station, and other landmark plans at the time including the Ben Franklin Parkway. Alteration to the interior is to accommodate office space, and mitigate the heavy industrial design for process mail. The exterior alterations will include enhancing the streetscape through landscape design.

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Why is Penn no longer interested in owning the main post office building?

Penn did not have a suitable need for a building of that size, and the alternative of mothballing the building would have left it empty and underutilized for years. The desired outcome for our campus development plan is to accelerate economic development and reposition the industrial character of the area. By working with the USPS and Brandywine Realty Trusts, we found an exciting opportunity meet our goals. Also, a non-profit University cannot take advantage of historic tax credits offered by the Federal government in preserving the building, and so it is more efficient for the private market to preserve and invest in the redevelopment effort.

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What is the plan and timing for the Annex building?

Penn is leasing the land to Brandywine Realty Trusts for 99 years. The redevelopment will bring first – class commercial amenities in a mixture of uses including office,and potential residential uses, hotel, office, with a parking facility and street level retail businesses. Demolition of the Annex building begins in the fall of 2007, and the plan is to have new buildings completed by 2010.

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Should I be concerned about traffic jams and parking problems during construction?

There is always a chance during the construction phase that some traffic and parking problems. However, most of the construction will take place inside the 14 acres of surface lots, off the main city streets.

That said, a thorough traffic planning and engineering study is underway and the impact on transit, business, and housing will be thoroughly investigated by the university over the next seven months.

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Is the University planning for that any expansion is done in a way that protects and enhances the local environment?

The plan addresses several design recommendations intended to assist the University in moving toward a more sustainable approach to development, especially in the east campus expansion area.

The specific physical design recommendations of the plan, in part, will lead the University to reduce energy consumption, provide alternative transportation operations, address storm water management issues and construct environmentally sustainable buildings.

Penn Connects aims to achieve leading sustainable design practices to minimize harmful impact on natural resources, and to mitigate existing burdens on the ecosystem.

Green open space will extend over the vast areas of currently hard-paved, derelict surfaces that formerly housed industrial activities. However, these new fields will be a challenge to be kept well-drained and intensively maintained. Most of their surface areas will consist of artificial turf requiring artificial cooling on hot summer days. The sports lighting requirements will be energy-intensive.

For more detailed information about the Plan visit the “Growing Greener” section of this website.

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How would the city and region benefit?

This represents another milestone in the long-pursued plans for the redevelopment of the Eastern part of University City, and continues the momentum of positive urban planning and economic development of the last ten years.

An additional one million square feet of first-class commercial amenities to University City will continue the momentum of repositioning the industrial land around the Schuylkill River and create a new, attractive gateway along the Northeast corridor, and a new front door to the City.

The increased vibrancy of the area’s business climate will stimulate more economic opportunities and growth, capitalizes on mass transit density and enhances the appeal of Philadelphia as a destination for education, entertainment, and work.

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How can I get more information about Penn Connects?

The most comprehensive information is within this web site. You can sign up to receive regular email updates. To request printed materials contact Facilities and Real Estate Services by emailing or calling.

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