Philadelphia: This is How To Develop An Amtrak Station.

July 6, 2016 5 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The stunning new 6 billion dollar development plans combine an area of downtown, a nearby university, an Amtrak station, and very dense infill development. While larger in scale, the basic principles are something Jacksonville should pay attention to. Frankly this kind of vision is what we are competing against in the national marketplace for developing 21st Century Cities. Check out the details after the jump.

University City in central Philadelphia is in for some major changes in the coming decades thanks to a new redevelopment plan from Amtrak and partners SEPTA, Brandywine Realty Trust, and Drexel University. 30th Street Station will be the center point of the overhaul, which will see a new, dense urban neighborhood rise over a rail yard along the Schuylkill River. (Read coverage of the SOM-led design of the plan here.)

The ambitious plan will be put into place over the course of 35 years, starting with capping of the existing Amtrak rail yard to accommodate a proposed 10 million square feet of development. The total plan will consist of 18 million square feet of new development and will include housing for 10,000 residents. The development also offers 1.2 million square feet of commercial space to an individual corporate or institutional tenant.

The project is expected to cost $6.5 billion, with $2 billion going to infrastructure investments and the other $4.5 billion coming from developers. Among the infrastructure improvements is a plan to relocate a ramp for the Schuylkill Expressway in favor of an intercity bus terminal. A new pedestrian plaza will surround the existing train station. The station itself will also receive a major renovation that will add retail space and a new concourse.

The redevelopment site consists of a total of 175 acres in the University City neighborhood, 88 of which is occupied by the rail yard. This plan is the culmination of a two-year study of the site, which extends east of Drexel’s campus between Walnut and Spring Garden Streets and northeast from 30th Street Station.

Amtrak’s first steps in executing the plan are expected to be the planning of the pedestrian plaza and receiving permission from PennDOT to relocate the highway ramp.


This is a highly ambitious plan that has the power to completely reshape how this part of Philly's urban core operates.  It is probably the finest example of transit oriented development (TOD) in the country at the moment.  Better than that, it has gone one step further to ensure that part of the project include transit adjacent development (TAD).

What this means is that a transportation project is designed to also act as a real estate development.  You are building or improving transportation to and from a particular location after all, you might as well take those locations and build high profit realty destinations and get the biggest impact for your investment.  If you create a dynamic enough destination as a result, other investors will build their projects next to yours, to take advantage of the energy and economic activity----hence the term transit adjacent.

In this case, an Amtrak upgrade is being built as a shopping center, with office and public space.  But the coolest thing is the addition of a Drexel University campus (and adjacent housing)

It takes little imagination to find parallels to Downtown Jacksonville---on a smaller scale.

For example, after years of talking about returning amtrak to downtown, imagine if the upgrade was embedded into the new JTA Transportation center, into which a Simon Mall and Lifestyle Center was built, that also included student housing for FSCJ's downtown campus ----which would be connected by the already existing skyway system---directly to campus.

What kind of water change into the downtown environment would that cause?

Stephen Dare, photo by Toni Smailagic