Philadelphia’s “Cambridge, University City” plans unveiled

The partners in the University City Innovation Collaborative are the University City Science Center, a nonprofit that runs a technology park and incubator in University City; Baltimore-based Wexford Science +Technology, the Science Center’s development partner; and the University City District, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life in University City, which is home to the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, the University of the Sciences and other research institutions.

“We think University City is Philadelphia’s Cambridge. It’s the knowledge center of the knowledge region. You look at the incredible assets we have here and I think we are asking ourselves, ‘How do we do more?’” said Matthew Bergheiser, the University City District’s executive director.

To answer that question, the organizations have hired the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia to look at three locations in other areas that have done or are trying to do what they want to do with University City’s strengths. The locations are Cambridge, Mass., home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Mission Bay in San Francisco, which is home to a campus of the University of California, San Francisco and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine; and the Cleveland Health-Tech Corridor, home to Case Western Reserve and Cleveland State universities, as well as the Cleveland Clinic.

The Economy League isn’t going to present the three areas’ strategies as blueprints for University City to follow. Instead, it is identifying each area’s strengths and how each has used them to promote economic development to try to come up with ways University City can use its strengths to promote economic development.

“The idea here is to find workable strategies that are unique to Philadelphia,” said Stephen Tang, the Science Center’s president and CEO. “We want to be very specific to the culture of the Greater Philadelphia region and in particular the University City area.”

The Economy League soon will make preliminary recommendations to representatives of some other University City organizations that are joining the Science Center, Wexford and the University City District in the initiative. Those and other organizations will decide upon a plan of action in late spring.

The type of benchmarking the Economy League is attempting is difficult to do, said Stephen Mullin, a senior vice president and principal of Econsult Corp., an economic consulting firm based in a Science Center building.

“There are a lot of times those comparisons are maybe of limited value because there are lots of factors that play into how successful different urban science parks can be,” Mullin said.

The Science Center has looked to Cambridge before as a model for development. In 2005, it undertook an ambitious plan set out by its then president and CEO, Pradip Banerjee, to turn itself from a property manager into a “complete venture ecosystem.”

The Science Center has been able to add some of the features Banerjee wanted it to, especially under Tang. Its QED Proof of Concept Program has provided very early stage money to researchers. It has received funding from the state of Pennsylvania for its Quorum initiative to provide physical and virtual space for the region’s entrepreneurs to collaborate and has gotten “significant early support” toward its goal of raising $1 million from businesses and other organizations for the construction of a meeting place for the initiative in its headquarters.

Additionally, while not all the construction Banerjee envisioned has come to pass, that may be moot, as $1.8 billion in construction projects have been started or completed over the past year, according to the University City District.

The article orginally posted on February 4th 2011 

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