Benjamin's Desk to run Penn's gigantic Grays Ferry coworking and events space - Technical.ly Philly

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Oct. 9, 2015 7:27 am

Benjamin’s Desk to run Penn’s gigantic Grays Ferry coworking and events space

The Pennovation Center will be a centerpiece of Penn's 23-acre campus in Southwest Philly.
A rendering of the Pennovation Center, which officially launches in the fall.

A rendering of the Pennovation Center, which officially launches in the fall.

(Courtesy image)

More big news from Benjamin’s Desk, the Rittenhouse coworking space that just announced its second location in Washington Square West: they’re going to operate Penn’s new “Pennovation Center,” a three-story, 58,000-square-foot space that’ll feature private offices, labs and coworking.

The Pennovation Center, which is under construction right now, is roughly at the center of Penn’s 23-acre South Bank campus in Grays Ferry. It aims to be open next summer. (We previously reported on the Pennovation Center and its early tenants, like drone manufacturer KMeL Robotics.) The Center will be open to both Penn and non-Penn companies, making it one of the main ways to get outsiders on the South Bank campus.

Conceptual Rendering of First Floor Social Center

A rendering of the first floor of the Pennovation Center. (Courtesy image)

The Center is a big, ambitious project. The coworking space itself, which will be on the first two floors of the building, will be just shy of 40,000 square feet, a spokesman said, which would make it the largest space of its kind in the city. (WeWork’s forthcoming space at the Piazza is slated to be 30,000 square feet.) Those numbers could change as the building nears completion, the spokesman said.

The combination of private offices, labs, event space and coworking naturally calls to mind the University City Science Center’s properties. That’s why it’s an interesting move for Penn, a private university, to build a space that’s open to the public. In the last year, Penn has been vocal about doubling down on entrepreneurship within its own walls, and the Pennovation Center feels very tied to that. The thinking seems to be: if we want to drive innovation and spinout startups within Penn, we should work with the broader tech and business community.

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“The Pennovation Works site will create and sustain a community of entrepreneurs and innovators who will translate new ideas and research into products, ventures, and services that will transform the city, the region, and the world,” Penn Facilities & Real Estate Services Vice President Anne Papageorge said in a statement.

Conceptual Rendering of 2nd Floor Coworking Space

A rendering of the Pennovation Center’s second floor. (Courtesy image)

It’s also a big get from Benjamin’s Desk, who, by next summer, will be operating three coworking spaces in the city. The partnership with Penn seems like a safer way to expand — less risk, since it has the backing of a large institution, plus less hands-on work since Benjamin’s Desk itself isn’t building out the space. Benjamin’s Desk has been talking about opening more locations since last year.

It’ll be interesting to see if the flashiness of the Pennovation Center is enough of a pull, since the location is less-than-ideal and not easily accessible through public transportation. And let’s not forget that there’s a lot of coworking options out there right now (and more coming).

Benjamin’s Desk members will get early access to the Pennovation Center, a spokesman said.

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