wireless city

Philadelphia plans to say in February how it will build and maintain a network for providing free or inexpensive wireless high-speed Internet access throughout the city.

We have an announcement date scheduled for Feb. 7 in which the mayor will announce how we are going to move forward with the project, said Dianah Neff, the city’s chief information officer.

Mayor John F. Street announced in August that the city had established the Wireless Philadelphia Executive Committee to work with Neff to devise a plan for funding, building and running the network. The committee delivered the plan to the mayor last month.

The goal is to have the network up and running by the fall of 2006, said Ed Schwartz, a member of the committee and the head of the Institute for the Study of Civic Values, which is based in Philadelphia.

Neff said the network would cost about $10 million to set up and $1.5 million annually to maintain. She said the committee’s plan gets that money from sources other than tax revenue, but she wouldn’t specify what they are. Possible alternatives are foundations and banks, which Neff said could use contributions to the network to meet their requirements under the U.S. Community Reinvestment Act.

We had to put together a business plan that showed a good return-on-investment model [for the network], which we believe we have, she said.

The city provides free wireless high-speed Internet access in five locations, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Love Park. Street hopes making it available citywide will promote economic development by making the city more attractive to well-educated young people and help ease the digital divide by providing Internet access to people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.

Philadelphia’s initial announcement that it intended to set up a citywide wireless broadband network garnered international attention for the city. It also joined it in a battle that other cities with similar intentions have been fighting with commercial providers of high-speed Internet access.

A telecommunications bill considered by the Pennsylvania leg

have faith

The Philadelphia Eagles will win their next two games, despite not having wide receiver Terrell Owens, and finally reach the Super Bowl after three straight disappointments in the NFC Championship Game. With that said, you can stop reading and go about your day, knowing that the Eagles are Super Bowl bound.

Are you convinced? Neither am I.

But we should be. And it’s not because Owens is recovering faster than expected. If he’ll be waving pom-poms over the next two weeks, it’ll be while wearing street clothes, so don’t get your hopes up on a miracle.

And a miracle isn’t needed because the Eagles have all the pieces they had last year that took them to the NFC Championship. But before the doubting begins, they also have a few players that weren’t around last year. And it’s these players that will take them to the to the next step.

Can I get an amen for Jevon Kearse, Hugh Douglass, Jeremiah Trotter, Lito Sheppard, and Brian Westbrook. Without these guys, the Eagles would look no different than last year. But they are here, and they make all the difference.

Jevon Kearse and Hugh Douglass add to the defensive line threat, just two more big, fast bodies that can be interchanged in defensive coordinator Jim Johnson’s sack-happy defense. Kearse, the new acquisition, has fit in nicely with the Eagles, often commanding double-teams to stop him from adding to his seven sack total. Douglass also wasn’t around last season, and is a powerhouse threat from the bench that will be useful when rotating linemen (especially because many of the Eagles defenders have been hit with small but nagging injuries.) Their speed and size will be integral for Philly to stop the run.

Trotter is another who wasn’t part of the blown game last season, and adds another weapon to an Eagles defense they allowed only the least points all season. With 61 tackles, he’s played his way into the starting position, and is used on many of Johnson’s blitz packages as outside pressure

the thoughtful smoker

She stood with one hand on her hip, the other extended inches from her face. With grace and methodology, she brought it to her delicate lips. As she inhaled the contents of the thin, brown stick, I recognized the brand without seeing it. The familiar scent irritated me, even 20 feet away. Now I was even more annoyed at my companion whom I awaited at the movie theater entrance at Franklin Mills Mall.

Her jeans were cropped high at the bottom. Her T-shirt had “Weird Girl” written on it. She chatted with two guys standing with her. Her constant laughter filled the night air with a playful melody. She took a final hearty puff and flicked the cigarette to the ground. What she did next was both shocking and inspirational. Without hesitating, she put a designer boot forward to step on the still-burning cigarette.

“Why did you do that?” I said it without thinking.

She looked around, unsure if I was speaking to her. I approached until I stood only 2 feet away from her.

“I’ve never seen anyone take the time to put out their cigarette after dropping it.”

She seemed embarrassed but readily shared her reasons. During her days as a non-smoker her biggest peeve was friends who would toss cigarettes without extinguishing them. Now a smoker, it still bothers her.

A kindred soul. We shared a laugh at our mutual irritant. She lit another cigarette. I wanted to ask why she started smoking in the first place, but dared not threaten the perfect connection we shared at that moment. And the guys with her started to look at me funny. And my companion returned from one of the inside stores.

You must admit that this girl’s singular act was refreshing. We’ve all witnessed careless people flinging lit cigarettes about the city. Let’s overlook, momentarily, the littering aspect. How many of them bother to put them out?

Hold on. The multitude of people taking cigarette breaks at astray receptacles provided outside many office buildings—don’t they put their cigarettes out? Yes. But what happens when smokers aren’t near public ashtrays? The ground becomes their ashtray. A quick visual survey of our city streets, cluttered with thousands of discarded cigarettes, confirms this unfortunate reality. With the ramifications of secondhand smoke well documented, consider the cumulative effect of allowing all those smoldering cigarettes to burn out on their own.

It takes a mere second to put out a burning butt. So I appeal to smokers in the City of Brotherly Love and elsewhere to do just that.

I often wonder what became of the carefree girl I encountered that day. Has she returned to the ranks of non-smokers, perhaps to wage a fierce anti-smoking crusade as her life’s work? Maybe she follows behind people, stamping out their unused cigarettes, as I do.

Her exuberance and candor certainly touched me. Thanks to a small act of consideration, the smoke from her discarded cigarette did not.

penn starts tech businesses

The University of Pennsylvania is among the top U.S. schools at turning discoveries by its researchers into businesses, according to the latest survey by the Association of University Technology Managers.

Penn’s Center for Technology Transfer negotiated deals to form 12 companies using technology developed at the school in its 2003 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2003.

That tied Penn for fourth in start-ups created in fiscal 2003, behind the University of California System with 22, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with 15 and the Cornell Research Foundation Inc. with 13.

In 2003, we had another very successful year, said Louis P. Berneman, managing director of Penn’s technology transfer center.

Penn has since picked up the pace, forming 14 firms in fiscal 2004. It is on pace to launch about 16 this fiscal year, he said.

Penn also is doing well by other measures, he said, such as the amount of sponsored research it does, the number of discoveries it receives from researchers, the number of patent applications it files and the number of patents it gets.

All of those leading-edge indicators, looking at future success, look very, very good, Berneman said.

The process of finding commercial applications for discoveries made by researchers is called technology transfer. It’s considered a key to developing an economy featuring businesses that employ well-educated people in high-paying jobs, and the area has launched initiatives to support it, especially in life sciences.

A school’s prowess in tech transfer can be measured in more than a half-dozen ways. Two popular ones are the amount of money a school gets, mostly from the federal government, to fund research, and the income it receives from technology already out in the marketplace.

Funded research is like seed corn; the more of it a school does, the better its chances are of developing technologies it can successfully license.

Licensing income is a function of research, time and some luck.

Penn is among the top 10 U.S. colleges and universities in sponsored research but not in the top 20 in license income, according to the survey, which was completed by 198 U.S. universities, teaching hospitals, research institutes and technology investment firms.

Penn’s licensing income is pretty good, considering that much of the school’s technology is in life sciences, which can take a long time to bring to market. The gestation time of its technology is one reason Penn decided to focus on starting companies. Its focus on economic development is another.

Drexel University also has focused on creating start-ups, turning out six in fiscal 2003 and eight in fiscal 2004.

Those figures are impressive, considering the school gets about one-eighth the research dollars that Penn does.

We go anywhere we need to go to find people who are interested in commercializing [Drexel’s] technology, said Anil K. Rastogi, Drexel’s vice president for special projects, who heads the school’s technology commercialization efforts.

Thomas Jefferson University also focuses on creating start-ups, said Katherine Chou, who directs its Office for Technology Transfer. It has started 11 companies since 1999.

The Temple University Office of Technology Transfer has focused on licensing technology developed at Temple, largely because the office funds itself with licensing income. Start-ups usually can’t pay licensing fees.

Fifteen years ago, when I convinced the provosts to start [the office], I made the promise that it wouldn’t cost the university any money, said Antonio Goncalves, who directs it.

Even so, Temple, which does about $60 million of funded research annually, has started eight companies in recent years.

cereal heaven

Finally someone realized that cereal is not just a breakfast food—it’s an anytime-anywhere-anyway kind of food. With all food items under $5, the new Cereality on 36th and Walnut is a trip into cereal heaven worth taking—over and over again.

The founders of a unique food chain called Cereality know that people, especially financially strained and busy college students, love the no-mess simplicity of a good bowl of cereal. This is why the cereal bar and cafe that debuted on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, recently opened its doors on Penn’s campus. And according to the website www.cereality.com, another store is set to open in the near future in Chicago,

The opening of the new unconventional fast food store was a gift from the almighty cereal Gods for cereal addicts like me. Cereality offers an array of cereals and toppings, which customers can use to make their own delicious concoctions ($2.95). The “Invent a Blend” program on the touch-screen computer guides customers through the many choices for both hot and cold blends. Or you can try one of the store’s creatively named signature favorites such as “Life Experience” (two scoops of Life brand cereal, a mix of bananas, and a touch of honey) for $3.50. If cereal isn’t your thing, Cereality also prepares parfaits, slurrealities (a smoothie-like drink mixed with cereal), coffee, lattes, and granola by the bag.

The store’s motto says it all: “Your cereal our way, your cereal your way, your cereal a whole new way.”

Cereality is located at 3631 Walnut Street and is open from 6:30am to 9pm Monday through Friday, 7am to 7pm on Saturday and 9am to 5pm on Sunday.

art of college dining

Campus dining is never quite as bad as its reputation, but it usually isn’t great either. Many schools make genuine efforts to spurn the stereotypes but too often opt for fast food outlets in student centers and tolerable international themes in the dining halls. Most serve their purpose, keeping students full and healthy (if they choose), but few warrant recommendation. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ eponymous PAFA Café at 1301 Cherry Street is the exception. One of only two eateries on campus, the Café features foods of a quality and a price found at few other schools.

The menu consists primarily of made-to-order sandwiches, and that’s just fine. They aren’t typical deli fare, consisting of options including chicken salad with cranberries, walnuts and fresh herbs on raisin bread; roast turkey with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and cranberry mayonnaise; and a southwestern chicken wrap with cheddar, avocado, bacon and salsa, all for $4.75. More traditional create-your-own sandwiches are available, with choices like goat cheese, pesto and caramelized onion mayonnaise. These and other additions are of a freshness and quality often found only at higher prices.

The rest of the menu is fairly standard, offering Caesar and house salads as well as a peanut butter and jelly. I’ve never understood the connection between PB&J and white bread, but thankfully the Café ignores this puzzling tradition and offers its sandwich on a variety of breads, white noticeably absent.

Ironically, the best choice at the Café comes from this simpler side of the menu. The $1.50 grilled cheese is loaded with cheddar and toasted to golden perfection; it’s home-cooked quality at a lunch truck price.

Few college eateries appeal to those beyond the schools’ own populations, excluding outsiders through an ID requirement or standoffish atmosphere. The PAFA Café, however, hosts a healthy mix of students, faculty and staff, as well as those with no relationship to the school whatsoever: good news for those of us without an artistic bone in our bodies.

skyline addition

Liberty Property Trust of Malvern will construct a 57-story, 1.2-million-square-foot office tower at 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, across from Suburban Station in Philadelphia. It will be called Comcast Center, and stand as the city’s tallest building.

Comcast Corp. will be the building’s anchor tenant and will maintain its headquarters there, initially occupying 534,000 square feet.

Armed with $30 million from the state and a 10-year tax abatement for new construction projects built in the city, Liberty and Comcast will proceed with the $435 million complex.

In addition to the $30 million from the state, the Governor’s Action Team worked with Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) through the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development to provide a financial package of $12.75 million that includes a $4 million opportunity grant, $6.75 million in job creation tax credits, and $2 million in job training assistance. In all, the project will receive a total of $42.75 million in financial incentives from the state, nearly the total amount spent last year in state and city incentives to retain six major employers in Center City.

Comcast is also considering taking advantage of Pennsylvania’s low-interest loan-bond financing programs for its expansion efforts in West Chester, Pa. This funding will also help to facilitate the expansion of Comcast Pennsylvania facilities in Radnor, Downingtown, Plymouth Meeting, Pittsburgh, and Lebanon as well as the enhancement of the Comcast University training programs.

Comcast will retain its 1,300 headquarters employees, and grow those employees to 1,900 by the time they move into the building at the end of 2007. The company may grow as many as 3,000 to 4,000 workers over the next decade, according to Comcast.

It is projected that between 4,500 to 5,000 construction jobs will be created that will generate an estimated $200 million in regional wages and earnings and $1.4 billion of overall economic impact, according to estimates provided by the state.

Comcast of Philadelphia signed a 15-year lease on the building and has the ability to trigger the construction of a second, 250,000-square-foot structure built adjacent to the first tower. Liberty of Malvern, Pa., will begin construction this month and the building will be available for occupancy in 2007.

Comcast Center will help redefine the city’s skyline. Cira Centre, an office building being constructed by Brandywine Realty Trust of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., next to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station is now under way and is the first addition to the city’s skyline in 12 years.

The decision by Liberty ends a long and controversial battle that began December 2003 when Liberty and Comcast tried to have the development site in the city’s Central Business District designated as a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone, or KOIZ. The zone would have given any tenant moving into the building breaks on certain state and local taxes. Comcast had argued the abatements the opportunity zone offered would enable the company to grow up to 3,000 headquarters jobs in Center City.

The opportunity zone was opposed by existing landlords, who felt the zone gave One Pennsylvania Plaza an unfair competitive advantage by giving all tenants who moved in tax abatements. The opposition, called the Center City Owners Association, had wanted any tax incentives tailored to just Comcast and its potential growth of jobs. The measure was eventually defeated by the General Assembly in November when the House Republicans decided not to bring the bill to a vote.

Soon after that, Gov. Ed Rendell, who supported the opportunity zone, released $30 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Budget and is routed through a capital assistance program. The funds in that program go toward specific development projects. The only requirement is that the money is spent on making capital improvements. Liberty intends to use the money to make infrastructure and other improvements to the site. Comcast was in negotiations last month with the state to get additional funds.

The addition of Comcast Center, which had originally been anticipated to open this year, is seen as a mixed blessing of sorts for the city.

Some of those who work in commercial real estate say the addition of a high-rise that connects and improves the mass transportation center for Philadelphia, and gives the city a new gateway entrance for those using public transit while providing Comcast with a new headquarters is exciting for the city. At the same time, the same real estate people believe the city’s office market is suffering from a 15 percent vacancy rate that will only get worse when more space is added to the market.