This month, ULI Philadelphia shines its Urban Visionary Sponsor Spotlight on SITIO, an architecture & planning practice recognized for its award-winning portfolio of transformative urban redevelopments. The firm’s name means “site”, a reference to the place-based approach to its work in often sensitive contexts. The firm currently has projects on the boards for strategically significant sites in Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, Detroit and Washington, DC.
SITIO was founded by Antonio Fiol-Silva FAIA, who has built a national reputation creating notable places through public-private partnerships, both in his leadership roles as a large-city Planning Director and as a planner and architect in private practice. Within the Institute, where he serves as a ULI Global Governing Trustee, Antonio has experienced the power of P3 partnerships to drive transformative development, through years of engagement in ULI’s Public/Private Partnerships Council, the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, and Juries for the Global Awards of Excellence. Locally, Antonio’s work in the region has been recognized by a record six ULI Philadelphia Awards, for projects covering a broad spectrum of institutional and public/private partnership arrangements. We caught up with Antonio on the progress of one of his current projects in that realm, the joint development of The Chestnut at University City and the Penn/Drexel Newman Center.
“We were first engaged on the site to study the redevelopment potential of a 1.4 – acre collection of parcels owned by both the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the St. Agatha & James Parish on the southern 3700th block of Chestnut Street.”, said Antonio. “The work resulted in a unity-of-use redevelopment strategy that led to the rezoning of the parcels and the selection of Exeter Property Group as the Master Developer to execute the site’s redevelopment through an institutional/private sector partnership that would relocate and develop a new 40,000 s.f. Penn/Drexel Newman Center in conjunction with a 415,000 s.f. residential mixed-use tower.” SITIO was subsequently selected as the architects for each of the two separate but interrelated projects, both managed by Exeter, but guided by distinct client groups.
The Chestnut, on track for early occupancy next May, is a 405-unit 30-story luxury apartment tower with supporting parking, amenities and retail fronting both Chestnut and Sansom Streets. The tower occupies a privileged location at the center of a block bookended by beautiful churches at both of its eastern and western ends, adjoining Penn to the south and the University City Science Center to the north. From its vantage point the tower commands spectacular overviews of Penn’s campus and the Center City skyline beyond. The element that will distinguish The Chestnut the most will be its setting. “The aspect that most preoccupies us is how a development engages its surroundings and people”, said Antonio, “of course everything else has to fall into place, but without that you just have a building, not a place.”
The Penn/Drexel Newman Center just celebrated its 150th anniversary as oldest of the nation’s 2,000 Newman Centers with the dedication of its recently completed 40,000 s.f. center. The Center, being completed in three-phases in tandem with the construction of The Chestnut tower, houses Penn’s and Drexel’s Newman Chapters. It provides new community spaces for the both Parish and the Center through the adaptive re-use of an old school that is connected to the parish church through a new glass link and a series of paved and green courtyards still under development.
In keeping with the civic tenor of the institutional/private partnership, a key component of the redevelopment project is the interconnected network of public courts and gardens that imparts cohesion to the full block. The project was commended at the Civic Design Review as a great example of a development that reaches out to integrate the adjacent properties to create a seamless and inviting public realm. The goal is to create a sense of place that will distinguish the project and return long-term dividends to both investors and the public.