“I really think University City is critical to the future of Philadelphia,” Matthew Bergheiser WG’96 is saying. “It’s kind of everything that Philadelphia is and everything that Philadelphia can be.”
Bergheiser is the newly appointed executive director of the University City District (UCD), a neighborhood improvement organization whose mission is to “build effective partnerships to maintain a clean and safe environment” while planning and advocating for the region’s “diverse, urban community.” In serving as a liaison between the district’s board of directors and local government, businesses, and residents, he will oversee some 85 administrative, public-safety, and maintenance employees and an annual budget of more than $9 million.
In its 12-year existence, the UCD has—among other accomplishments—implemented major lighting projects, created plans for gateways to the district, established a Main Street program on Baltimore Avenue, partnered with the community to build new playgrounds in Clark Park, helped establish the Clark Park Farmers’ Market, and undertaken more than $3 million of streetscape and public-infrastructure projects.
Since Penn has been the driving force behind the 2.4-square-mile district, Bergheiser’s performance will be of considerable interest to the University community.
“We are thrilled to announce Matt as the new executive director,” said Craig Carnaroli W’85, chair of the UCD board and Penn’s executive vice president. “He has a unique set of skills in urban development, community relations, management, strategic planning, and fundraising that will help us accomplish our goals and meet the terrific opportunities that await this community.”
Before taking the reins of the UCD on July 1, Bergheiser was the Philadelphia-based regional director of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, where he managed an annual grant-making budget of $6 million, created its investment strategy, and steered public and private investments to programs such as Graduate! Philadelphia, Campus Philly, and the Job Opportunity Investment Network. Before that, he served as executive director of the Trenton Downtown Association.
In addition to his MBA from Wharton, Bergheiser holds a BA from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has not, he admits cheerfully, followed a typical Wharton MBA path, assuming there is such a thing.
“I actually went to Wharton with an interest to move into the nonprofit sector,” he says. “I was always interested in the intersection between business and public policy. But I think the time in Philadelphia and the time at Wharton definitely cemented that.”
While at Wharton, he did an internship with the West Philadelphia Enterprise Center, a nonprofit inner-city business incubator.
“I just kind of fell in love with the place and the prospect of cultivating entrepreneurship for the purpose of stimulating economic development,” he says.
Calling University City “the knowledge center of a knowledge region,” Bergheiser acknowledges that “we haven’t always told the story that way.”
University City “certainly has the assets” to be for Philadelphia what Cambridge is for Boston—namely “a hub for entrepreneurship and a place that attracts students to come and stay after school.” But he is also well aware of the “pockets of disinvestment,” both within and outside of the district, that provide a real challenge to its potential.
“The district is a major player in the development of commercial corridors, business attraction, and retail development,” he explains. “It’s a major player in public-space maintenance and infrastructure projects. It’s a major player in marketing and promoting the district. And it’s increasingly a major player in connecting folks within the district to opportunities. So it really is kind of taking a holistic view of how to make this part of West Philadelphia more competitive, in every sense of the word.”—S.H.