Our Work

Reconnecting with Purpose

  • University of Pennsylvania
Client Type
  • Higher Education

Philadelphia, PA

Practice Areas
  • Equitable Communities
  • Transformative Real Estate
  • Vibrant Campuses

University of Pennsylvania

In its hometown of Philadelphia, U3’s principals pioneered a new way of repositioning universities as true community assets and driving sustainable economic growth.


By the early 1990’s West Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania faced a multitude of problems including rising crime, student migration to Center City, alienation from community, and a deteriorating neighborhood. Penn, along with numerous community partners, developed the West Philadelphia Initiatives to improve the University City neighborhood. This strategic plan focused on five core strategies:

  1. Make neighborhoods safe and secure
  2. Attract a year-round housing community
  3. Develop destinations for shopping, dining, and entertainment
  4. Invest in public education
  5. Integrate the Campus into the urban fabric

The comprehensive strategy has been successful in creating a safe, vibrant, and clean neighborhood that is integrated with the University’s campus. Institutional investment promoted the development of key parcels along the campus edge into mixed-use projects. The University developed a neighborhood K-8 partnership school with the School District of Philadelphia, which helped attract families to the neighborhood. Housing incentives were offered to faculty and staff and resulted in more than 1,000 home purchases in West Philadelphia.

A number of community partnerships were also established including the creation of the University City District – a community development organization. UCD manages clean, safe, marketing, business attraction programs as well as the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, which connects local residents to jobs and internships at the neighborhood’s anchor institutions.


Reposition Penn in a way that reintegrates the university with its surrounding neighborhood and leverages its immense educational and economic power to benefit several stakeholder groups simultaneously: students, visitors. residents, and area businesses.


Focus planning, development, and activation efforts on a set of specific strategic goals intended to address immediate and long-term considerations around safety, public realm enhancement, and economic vitality. Initiate and support new community partnerships to create the capacity for ongoing improvements to the district.


Hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private sector investment have flowed into a district that was enduring a pattern of decline and disinvestment and local stakeholders indicate that their relationship with the university is stronger and more communicative than ever. The Penn/West Philly initiative laid the groundwork for similar anchor strategy plans that have been successfully developed and implemented around North America.

Omar Blaik and Tom Lussenhop, principals at U3 Advisors, helped lead this effort as senior administrators at the University of Pennsylvania. Between 1997 and 2006, Penn was responsible for nearly $500 million of real estate development along its campus edge, increasing the University’s overall NOI by 113% and its retail occupancy from 83% to 95%. Penn’s effort helped transform the University City neighborhood into a vibrant, safe, 24/7 destination for students, faculty, staff, and residents of West Philadelphia. This successful anchor strategy is the foundation on which U3 Advisors has built its anchor strategy practice.

In 2021, U3 Advisors moved its headquarters to a refurbished historic building on 40th Street in West Philadelphia – just a few blocks from Penn’s campus. The move returns our firm to the corridor where our work started more than 25 years ago. We are proud to be part of the neighborhood’s history and future.