Editor’s Note: This story was originally reported for our content partner, GlobeSt.com.
PHILADELPHIA, PA—(SBN)—Co-working, maker and creative spaces are changing Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, bringing new firms to the City and creating opportunities for technologies to be developed and companies to grow, according to a panel of market participants convened by the Urban Land Institute’s Philadelphia District.
You can listen to a complete audio podcast of the panel discussion in the player below.
“What’s been so exciting is to see the sense of possibility, the sense of purpose, and the sense of community that’s being built right here in Philadelphia,” says Brian Selander, entrepreneur in residence at SeventySix Capital, who moderated the panel. “The bar to starting something new has never been lower, and that is a massive opportunity for us, because the bar to building community has never been lower as well.”
Panelists focused on recent redevelopments and repurposing of several properties in the Philadelphia market, including the Edward W. Bok Technical High School, now known as BOK, a former vocational-technical training school in South Philadelphia that has been repurposed with retail, maker, and community spaces; the uCity Square area that includes the Science Center and Pennovation Works, a University of Pennsylvania incubator space.
The Cambridge Innovation Center “builds supportive infrastructure for entrepreneurs,” says Stas Gayshan, CIC’s managing director. CIC has 350,000 square feet of space for entrepreneurs in Cambridge and Boston, and is opening a facility in Philadelphia. Gayshan says CIC’s Boston area offices house 1,500 entrepreneurs worth more than $7.1 billion of venture capital, “more venture capital in those three buildings than in the United Kingdom.”
Attracting entrepreneurs to office space requires building a “magnet for innovation,” he says.
“More important than anything, they need to be able to focus on their business,” says Gayshan. CIC takes “functionally irrelevant decisions” like furniture and office color schemes off their plates. Given that technology enables people to work anywhere, building a specific office space must answer the question, “Why do you put people in an office?” he says. Putting people in an office brings people together, and “there is a value in people working together in physical proximity to other human beings.”
“If you are building an office for anything other than physical proximity of people, I would suggest you think very closely about what you are doing,” he says. “The office exists for collaboration, it is for no other purpose.”
The University of Pennsylvania had several centers of innovation clustered in specific life science disciplines, but they found it difficult to collaborate with outside partners, so they reorganized into a “hub and spoke” structure.
“What was missing was a hub,” says Anne Papageorge, vice president of facilities and real estate services, University of Pennsylvania. Penn acquired a former DuPont property and redeveloped the 23-acre site into Pennovation Works, which it calls “a blend of offices, labs, and production space to bridge the intellectual and entrepreneurial initiatives for advancing knowledge and generating economic development.”
Penn is working to make space available in the complex for entrepreneurs on more flexible, shorter lease terms. Many startup companies don’t have the capital resources to commit to longer leases, and being flexible will help keep promising students from the region’s universities in the region, contributing to the economy after they graduate, Papageorge says.
“We want to create an environment that promotes that flexibility, that promotes that innovation, that’s cool, because that’s where these young students, post-graduates, young adults, want to be,” she says. “They want to be supported and nurtured by the experience of others.”
The redevelopment of the Edward W. Bok Technical High School facility at 1901 S. 9th Street preserved an enormous Depression-era vocational school whose declining enrollment led the Philadelphia School District to close the facility.
Scout acquired the property in a competitive bidding process, says Lindsey Scannapieco, managing partner. The transformation of the asset into a combination of maker space, retail space, and community activities is about 20 percent complete, she says.
The 340,000 square-foot property is located about two miles from key development nexuses in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, University City, and the central business district, but the working class neighborhood doesn’t need additional housing stock, she says.
“We thought what it actually needed was affordable work space,” she says. “Bok really had an opportunity to provide that at an affordable rate.”
In redeveloping the space, Scout took advantage of existing infrastructure in the building such as gas lines, extra heavy floor plates, and utilities serving former vocational and technical classrooms.
There are about 70 tenants in the building, including a hat maker, glass blower, custom woodworking shops, a photography collective, printers, and even a tattoo parlor, Scannapieco says.
“When we talk about innovation, for us it was just enabling this place to be richly varied and diverse, allowing it to be affordable and therefore meet the needs of a whole host of different types of people,” she says. “That mixture and diversity is really important for the building’s metabolism.”
The Science Center, part of the newly reconfigured uCity Square in University City, is reintroducing “an activated streetscape,” with green space, and “convening space” on the 14-acre parcel that once housed the University City High School, says Joe Reagan, senior vice president for development, Wexford Science + Technology.
“The image I want to leave you with is not just the plans,” he says. “We’re reintroducing the streets, a college green, around which will center retail, residential and hospitality, something that the Market Street Corridor hasn’t had the opportunity to provide over the last 50 years of the Science Center’s development there. At the end of the day, the opportunity for casual interaction among members of the community lets innovation continue and move forward and continue on an active basis.”