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March 15, 2022

Philly's largest life sciences lab planned for Drexel University campus

The 11-story building will sit near the Schuylkill Yards development that is revamping University City

Development Research
Drexel Life Sciences Philly Courtesy/Drexel University

A rendering shows the 11-story life sciences research complex planned for Drexel University near the burgeoning Schuylkill Yards development in University City.

Drexel University and Gatusso Development Partners are teaming up to build an 11-story complex in University City that will become Philadelphia's largest life sciences research laboratory.

The project will be the latest in a series of development plans bringing more lab space to University City, where Philadelphia is poised to evolve as one of the nation's leading life sciences hubs in the years to come. 

Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the building planned at 3201 Cuthbert St. will add 500,000 square feet of custom-designed space for life sciences research next to the university's historic Armory. The site near 32nd Street and JFK Boulevard is currently a recreational facility used by some of Drexel's varsity athletics teams and intramural groups, which will be moved to the Vidas Athletics Complex. Additional green space will be created for student athletics after the demolition of the university's Myers Hall.

GDP is known for its work on the Comcast Center and the Comcast Technology Center as well as a significant footprint at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. GDP will partner with New York-based Vigilant Real Estate Holdings and Boston-based The Baupost Group on the upcoming project.

Drexel plans to lease about 60,000 square feet at the new building to house some of its core research and business development operations. Some of the labs will be used to support Drexel's academic programs. GDP, which is leasing the site from Drexel, has signed commitments from other life sciences tenants representing more than 55% of the available square footage.

To support lab research, the building is designed to include expanded floor-to-floor heights, fully enclosed loading docks, chemical storage space and pH neutralization capability. The HVAC system will be tailored to meet research requirements and the building will have five service elevators, with ample space set aside for tenant equipment and vertical shaft infrastructure.

"We are proud to partner with Gattuso Development Partners to bring this world-class facility to University City's flourishing life sciences community," Drexel President John Fry said. "As Drexel continues to play a prominent role in creating a vibrant innovation ecosystem in University City, this exciting project will generate more co-op and career opportunities for Drexel students while stimulating more educational and research partnerships with life science companies for our faculty and students."

Greater Philadelphia has been climbing in the top 10 life science clusters in the United States in recent years, led by new lab construction and an infusion of venture capital over the last decade. The Discovery Labs, a former GlaxoSmithKline research space in King of Prussia, became one of the world's largest life sciences co-working spaces a few years ago by connecting 12 buildings on a sprawling campus.

In Philadelphia, Spark Therapeutics also is investing $575 million in a cell and gene therapy innovation center on Drexel's campus at 30th and Chestnut streets.

Drexel's new life sciences building fits into the larger push for growth in University City in the coming decades. Schuylkill Yards encompasses a 20-year, $3.5 billion mixed-use development blueprint on a 14-acre site next to Drexel’s main campus and adjacent to Amtrak's 30th Street Station.

The building at Drexel is expected to begin construction late this year with an anticipated completion date in the 2024 fall.