This month we sat down with member James A. Bilella II, PE, VP at longtime ULI Philadelphia sponsor Urban Engineers where Jim is general manager of facilities design and a professional engineer with more than 20 years of experience in design and construction. Additionally, he serves as Councilman for Berlin Borough, NJ.
We are all very excited about the ULI Spring Meeting being held in Philadelphia this year. Can you tell us a little bit about what you think having the Spring Meeting here means for Philadelphia?
Hosting the global Spring Meeting will be an excellent opportunity to showcase the incredible development happening in Philadelphia during its continued renaissance from a 9 to-5 city to a 24/7 city.
As a member of ULI Philadelphia can you tell us a little about how ULI impacted or helped you personally or professionally?
On a professional level, ULI has put me in touch with and helped me develop relationships with key individuals in the industry. On a personal level, I have learned so much in the always interesting and informative sessions, especially the annual ULI Real Estate Forecast.
One of the amazing opportunities I hope to take advantage of this year as Councilman of Berlin Borough, NJ, is to have a ULI Philadelphia Technical Assistance Panel to help us with the numerous distressed commercial properties in a historic Main Street setting and finding ways to make the area attractive to potential investors. This is an incredible valuable resource.
One of Urban Engineers renowned projects is The Curtis Institute of Music. Regarded as one of the most prestigious conservatories in the world, The Curtis Institute of Music has won numerous awards within the design community including a ULI Philadelphia “Rouse Award” and the Grand Jury Award for Preservation Achievement by The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. What made this particular project so special?
One of Urban Engineers’ renowned projects is The Curtis Institute of Music, regarded as one of the most prestigious conservatories in the world, Curtis has won numerous awards within the design community including a ULI Philadelphia Award for Excellence and the Grand Jury Award for Preservation Achievement by The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. The Curtis Institute of Music project is special because we were able to create an entire university campus within one building located at 17th and Locust – a historic Center City Philadelphia block. This 100,000-square-foot, nine-story building includes a cafeteria, recreational areas, dormitories, and classrooms. We maintained the historical façade while adding all of the necessary space and acoustical elements for a music school. It is discretely modern and fits beautifully within the historical context of the neighborhood, reactivating it with students and faculty. The project achieved LEED Gold Certification.
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in engineering?
A political leader. I served in the U.S. Army Reserves for 15 years, and since my youth as an Eagle Scout have always made an effort to help my community.
As a distinguished expert in engineering, you have been an important part of many incredible regional projects. What is the most exciting project you have worked on in your career?
At Urban Engineers, I have been fortunate to be involved in a number of exciting institutional projects. For example we are currently working on the Longwood Gardens’ Main Fountain renovations. The fountain, built in 1932, is being restored to its original grandeur while modernizing the systems to perform complex tasks like choreographing the fountain bursts to music, lights, and fireworks. Physically, it will look as it did in 1932, but will come to life with world-class, 21st century fountain shows. There is much going on behind the scenes to make it all come together, including a two-story underground fountain control and systems building, as well as underground personnel tunnels throughout the five-acre garden to allow maintenance access to all of the systems without disturbing the visitors.
Other exciting projects I have had the pleasure to work on include the most recent Franklin Institute expansion – the Athena and Nicholas Karabots Pavilion, as well as numerous projects at the nearby Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and The University of Pennsylvania.
Connect with James Bilella on LinkedIn here.