Drexel’s new life science labs planned for Philadelphia

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With plans for an 11-story life sciences laboratory building on campus, Drexel University is approaching the model seen at other institutions where academics and commerce co-exist, Drexel’s president said Tuesday, John Freey.

Gattuso Development Partners said this week that it plans to build “the largest life sciences laboratory and research building in the city” on the Drexel Campus, a $400 million project on the 3200 block of Cuthbert Street which would erect a 500,000 square foot facility on what are now sports fields. Construction is expected to begin later this year, with completion slated for 2024.

The project is the latest in Philadelphia’s development toward the life sciences. There are millions of square feet of projects announced as the office sector struggles post-pandemic. Mosaic Development Partners and Ensemble Real Estate Investments recently joined Oxford Properties Group with a plan to jointly own and develop 3 million square feet of life science properties at Navy Yard.

The developers also unveiled a plan last year to rehabilitate the long-inactive Budd Co. Hunting Park plant for life sciences.

This is Drexel’s latest attempt at a business-oriented company. Others include Schuylkill Yards, uCity Square and Spark Therapeutics.

In December, Spark, a subsidiary of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Group, announced a $575 million gene therapy manufacturing plant on the Drexel campus. Spark signed a 99-year ground lease in the university’s Lot F parking lot at the intersection of 30th and Chestnut streets. Terms were not disclosed.

READ MORE: Spark Therapeutics to Build $575 Million Gene Therapy Center on Drexel Campus at 30th & Chestnut

With its various projects, Drexel can align the university’s work-oriented cooperative education with commercial entities, Fry said. Drexel has also benefited financially from more than $100 million in prepaid ground leases that will be invested for the university’s endowment, he said.

Vigilant Real Estate Holdings, in New York, and Baupost Group, a Boston investment firm, are equity investors in the Gattuso development project, according to a press release.

John Gattuso, co-founder and managing director of Gattuso Development Partners, said Philadelphia has emerged as a viable center for gene therapy companies behind Boston and San Francisco.

Robert AM Stern Architects designed the proposed building which will be located adjacent to the Armory. Drexel plans to lease 60,000 of the 500,000 square feet of the proposed life sciences complex. Tenants, including Drexel, have committed to lease 55% of the building’s available space, according to a statement.

At Liberty Property Trust, Gattuso was responsible for the development of the two Comcast Corp. towers. in Center City, the tallest office buildings in Philadelphia with approximately 3 million square feet of space.

Gattuso and several other members of Liberty Property Trust’s urban development team went their separate ways and set up the new business, located in the Navy Yard. Liberty focused its business on warehouses over time until Prologis Inc., a logistics company, bought Liberty for $13 billion in early 2020.

Gattuso said on Tuesday that the project had started the permitting process. He finally estimates that up to half a dozen companies could be tenants.

“I’m very excited. This was the culmination of ten years of work,” Fry said of the projects, including the Gattuso partnership. “It will make Philadelphia more competitive.”

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