Philadelphia’s University City is on a Growth Trajectory
University City’s ongoing commercial real estate success is the result of companies realizing that real estate decisions should be based on factors that yield better and more engaged employees; that location, environment and connectivity matter when companies are seeking innovation and change; and that physical spaces affect productivity and creativity. At the recent University City District’s State of University City presentation, CEO Matt Bergheiser reported that the district was home to over 80,000 jobs, up from 5,000 last year. Companies are relocating to University City – knowing that it is an environment where they can attract recent graduates from the area universities and tap into a rich regional workforce that commutes by train, auto, and bicycle. It is a workforce that is engaged in career learning through the many programs, seminars and symposia offered by surrounding institutions. Studies dating back over 40 years illustrate that proximity and density yield interactions and innovation. Experience proves these studies. Google would not exist if Larry Page and Sergey Brin did not attend Stanford University at the same time. Companies are establishing offices and labs near places where there is thought leadership and subject matter expertise in order to create connectivity. University City has many centers of excellence including technology, business, and gene/cell therapy. Companies want to cluster near these centers resulting in a shifting real estate decision paradigm. The trend for companies to relocate to urban from suburban locations is global and also based on the desire to drive other change within their organizations. Reebok recently announced a move to downtown Boston from its sprawling 60-acre Canton campus for two reasons: To be in a vibrant urban area where millennials are eager to work and live; and to create a more collaborative and flexible environment in a community that they can be more closely connected to. The physical environment in University City differs significantly from Philadelphia’s Central Business District and other urban areas in Philadelphia. The district was first developed in the Victorian era and the historic residences and neighborhoods present wide porches, large trees, gardens and yards – features not found in many urban neighborhoods. The institutions in University City have invested in green and public spaces such as the Innovators Walk of Fame in uCity Square. This, and similar investment, results in a pedestrian-friendly environment where people can sit and enjoy the outdoors. Over the past 15 years, new buildings have been developed to provide LEED certified office/lab facilities that create superior work environments. Now more than ever, companies are realizing that these built environments affect their employee’s productivity and creativity. University City presents over 260 restaurants, 42 cultural institutions, new hotels, apartment buildings, world class academic and research institutions, as well as a rich fabric of neighborhoods. Companies are seeking to capitalize on the opportunity to better compete and innovate in their industry. These factors bode well for University City’s future and continued economic growth and vitality as companies and organizations consider these new factors when making real estate decisions. Paul G. Garvey is senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, Philadelphia.