New spaces for living and learning

Two major building projects announced last week will alter the landscape of University City.

The Wharton School will break ground in April on a $120 million, state-of-the-art academic center that will house its undergraduate and graduate programs as well as faculty offices. And the University has entered into an agreement with a private firm to renovate the former General Electric building at 31st and Chestnut streets into a 285-unit luxury apartment house.

Plans for the Wharton School building, to be located on the former Bookstore site at 38th and Walnut streets, were unveiled at an open house Feb. 1. The structure, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York, includes fully-wired classrooms and group study rooms for both the undergraduate and MBA programs, a 300-seat auditorium, office space for student activities, a facility for faculty seminars and conferences, a 4,000-square-foot forum for gatherings and large events, and two cafes, including one that will open onto Locust Walk.

In addition, four of Wharton's 11 academic departments will occupy space in the building's office tower.

Pledges and gifts from Wharton alumni will cover the entire cost of construction, said Wharton Dean Thomas Gerrity.

The project at the former General Electric building will be developed by Dranoff Properties. Westside Commons, as the G.E. building will be renamed, will feature indoor parking, retail and office space along Chestnut Street and a rooftop fitness center.

"Vistas [will] stretch east across the Schuylkill River to the Center City skyline and west overlooking Penn's campus," said Penn Executive Vice President John Fry.

The University purchased the vacant warehouse in 1996. Until this agreement, no other project was deemed economically viable for the large structure. Its renovation is estimated at $54 million-none of which will come from the University or public funds.

Construction of Westside Commons is expected to begin this summer and finish in early 2001.

The Wharton facility is scheduled to open in 2002.

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Originally published on February 11, 1999