The quest for a new DP Office

A move to a new long-term home will happen,
but where and when remains uncertain

The Daily Pennsylvanian: A Penn Institution

The Daily Pennsylvanian has been a visible fixture on the Penn campus for more than 132 years. Generations of Penn students and faculty have relied on the "DP" to learn what's new, what's happening, what's coming to campus. DP reporting has not only informed and educated the campus community, but has also helped to bring change and reform to the University. Every Penn alumnus has memories of the DP as part of the college experience; the DP is a part of the fabric of life at Penn.

 

As important as the DP is to the Penn community, the newspaper's mark on its own alumni is even more indelible. From those who have turned their work at the DP into lifelong careers to those who formed lifelong friendships in the long days and late nights, the DP is a valuable, and often central, piece of the undergraduate experience of more than 3,000 Penn alumni. Today's DP staff of more than 250 students continues to add to the tradition of excellence.

 

The DP Office: a Brief History
For many decades, the DP occupied an office at 3443 Woodland Avenue in the heart of campus. In 1961, the DP moved from its longtime home to the basement of the Sergeant Hall dormitory at 34th & Chestnut Streets. In 1975, with the demolition of Sergeant Hall imminent, the DP was moved to the second floor of 4015 Walnut Street.

For the past 40+ years, the nearly-windowless second floor office has been home to the newspaper's operations. Two-thirds of the office was gutted and remodeled in 1987, with the floor tile and paint trim colors earning the office the unplanned moniker of "the Pink Palace." Additional smaller renovations in 1996, 1999 and 2006 helped refine space utilization to accommodate departments new to the organization and take advantage of new technology.

When the DP became independent from Penn in 1984, the paper and the University signed a 20-year lease agreement for the DP's office space at 4015 Walnut with steadily increasing, but below-market rate, rental payments by the DP. A series of two- and three-year lease extensions have been signed since 2004; the latest assures the DP office space until the summer of 2019.

But the stay at 4015 Walnut will likely come to an end at some as-yet-undetermined future date. The 8-story building, built in 1924 as the Atlas Storage Warehouse, still houses 6 unfinished floors of warehouse space used by the Penn Records Center; only the DP's second floor office and a small first floor coffeehouse and art gallery have ever been developed as commercial or retail space. As Penn has worked over the past two decades to redevelop the neighborhood around 40th & Walnut streets into a bustling, lively retail area, Penn officials believe there are better uses for the building than warehouse space. Penn has also added land and buildings near the main campus which could be used to relocate the Records Center. Although the timing remains uncertain, Penn some day plans to hand the building over to an outside developer who will completely gut the building and renovate it into a residential or office building with ground-floor retail. The main thing holding up such development is that the 4015 building would be expensive to commercialize because of technicalities in Philadelphia building code and how the building is situated on the lot. But whenever Penn eventually pulls the trigger, the DP will need a new home.

 

A new office: what and where?
Currently, the DP's office occupies approximately 7,300 sq. ft. The paper's leadership believes the DP of the future will need office space comparable to the current office. Technology changes over the past three decades have created some savings in space; however, expansions in the organization's scope, products and staff have consumed any space freed up by the advances in technology.

An informal space plan developed by the paper demonstrates a need for about the same space as the current office (without providing any additional space for future growth). While it is difficult to predict what changes the future may hold, the paper's leadership does not envision changes that would allow the organization to function in significantly less space without radically changing the culture and atmosphere of working at the DP. A college newspaper office is, of necessity, a collaborative workplace; even as emphasis shifts from the printed product to the online product, the need for writers, editors, photographers and designers to interact will not significantly change. Possible expansion into more video production for the paper's web sites may require some additional space.

Another key to finding a future home is location, location, location. The paper's leadership strongly feels that the optimal location for a DP office will be in the area bounded by 36th & 41st Streets east-to-west, and Chestnut and Spruce Streets north-to-south.

This geography is based on a number of factors, the most important of which is proximity to where students live today and are likely to live in the near-term future. Even with the recent eastward expansion of campus, most of the DP's staff (the large majority of whom are upperclassmen) will continue to live near 40th Street -- in university dorms or off-campus housing. Those staff members work all hours of the day and night; most editors, for example, walk home from the office each night, often after midnight. Additionally, many staff members -- reporters, photographers, advertising representatives -- need to be in and out of the office multiple times throughout the day. Proximity to a variety of food establishments is important due to the hours of production. The DP also receives foot traffic from members of the community who come to our office to meet with reporters, place advertisements, enter reader contests, etc. Weighing all these factors, an office on the new eastern edge of campus would not be at all practical for the newspaper's operations.

 

Working with Penn to find a new home

Because Penn owns or controls the large majority of the land and buildings in the target area for a new office, working with Penn to secure a new office location is a matter of common sense. Additionally, a consultant hired by the DP in 2005 to gather feedback from DP alumni found that a significant majority of DP alumni expect Penn and the DP to work together to find a long-term housing solution.

Since 1998, the DP has been talking with Penn about a future home for the newspaper. While the DP's independence means that Penn has no obligation to the paper, officials at Penn have seemed genuinely interested in helping the DP find a new home. 

Through these many years of informal talks, no viable plan with Penn has yet emerged. Only one plausible space has ever come up, and it would have carried rental rates more than three times higher than the DP's current rent -- a change which would have decimated the paper's budget. But talks are ongoing, and university officials have extended the DP's current lease through 2019 in order to have more time to develop a plan which will prove viable for both Penn and the DP. Penn has many long-term plans for new development along the 40th Street corridor, and it is hoped that one of the new buildings, or space in an existing building freed up by new buildings, might provide a suitable opportunity for a new DP home.

 

In 2010, there was some optimism about a potential site not owned by Penn, located ideally within a block of the paper's current home. But after months of preliminary planning, the owners of that building eventually decided they felt they could make more money building commercial retail space.

 

In recent years, due to the weak economy and massive upheaval in advertising spending, the DP's attention has turned inward to reshaping its business model and reducing it operating losses, and the drive for a new long-term home has been pushed to the back burner. The status quo is unlikely to change until either Penn decides to redevelop 4015 Walnut and displace the DP or an ideal alternative space emerges.  

Please check back here periodically to read about progress on and plans for a future long-term home for the DP.

 

 
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