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Cool Innovation
Penn plans incubator on waterfront industrial site in Philadelphia.
Courtesy University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania has unveiled a plan to convert a former industrial site along the Schuylkill River into a high-tech, innovation, and research park. The 23-acre site, called South Bank, which was previously home to the Dupont Company, will be anchored by the Pennovation Center, a “business incubator and accelerator.”

The Center will be housed in an existing 52,000-square-foot building that the school will convert into a mixed-use space for incubators, food services, labs, and conferencing. “The idea is that we would create a hub that will be for collaboration incubators, [and] an exchange of ideas; basically a central point within this complex that will allow the various occupants to hold events for informal gatherings,” said Anne Papageorge, the vice president of Penn’s Facilities and Real Estate Services.

The school will be releasing an RFP for the Pennovation Center in mid-March and expects it to open within 18 to 24 months. The larger project, which will be phased in over many years, could ultimately total 1.5 million square feet. The site has been fairly active since 2010 when Penn bought the land from DuPont for $13 million.

The Pennovation Center is across the river from the main campus of the University of Pennsylvania.

There are currently about 50 tenants working at the site, which includes five university-based services and research ventures, four small businesses, and the Philadelphia Free Library Operations Center.

The overall master plan for the South Bank will include converting many existing buildings, creating new structures and infrastructure, and increasing open space. The plan was drafted by the Philly-based firm Wallace Roberts and Todd (WRT).

The university worked with WRT to identify facilities from the site’s DuPont days that could be adapted to meet the school’s needs. “Preserving some of the structures that are there that have an industrial quality was something that seemed very logical to pursue,” said Ignacio F. Bunster-Ossa, a principal at WRT. He said part of their mission for the Pennovation Center was to “create a sense of cool innovation regarding the uses and the potential of the site.”

The entire South Bank project is part of Penn Connects 2.0, the university’s long-term strategy for development and sustainability. The plan is also in line with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation’s larger initiative to transform nearly 4,000 acres of industrial land along the Lower Schuylkill River.

Henry Melcher