Drexel University College of Medicine Opens in Wyomissing on a Recently Redeveloped 53-acre Property.
A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on July 27, 2021, to celebrate the opening of the Drexel University College of Medicine at Tower Health in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. “What a proud day it is for all of us; for Drexel, for Tower Health, and for the great community of Reading,” remarked John Fry, Drexel University President, at the ceremony. The facility welcomed its inaugural class of 40 first-year medical students at the regional medical campus a week later. At full capacity, the medical college will host 200 students from around the world.
Plans to build the medical school were announced in April 2018 and construction began in June 2019. Drexel University medical students already receive training from faculty physicians at Reading Hospital, the flagship of the Tower Health network, which is located less than 1 mile from the new campus. “Our medical students have been receiving their clinical education at Reading Hospital through a long-standing academic affiliation agreement and have been making an impact on medical care in Berks County for decades,” said President Fry. “Our new campus will increase their engagement with both patients and the community and provide greater opportunities to train and go on to be leaders in medicine, especially in areas in need of more physicians.”
The Drexel University facility was built on the North Campus of the Knitting Mills complex – the site of the former Vanity Fair Outlet complex. The recently redeveloped 53-acre property has a long history of innovation and industry.
In the late 1800s, Ferdinand Thun and Henry Janssen, both German immigrants and industrialists, collaborated with the Borough of Wyomissing to create an idyllic and unique company town centered around their industries. Their development included a savings and loan, public library, fire company, public museum, and an extensive public park system. Wyomissing Industries, consisting of Textile Machine Works (manufacturing of knitting machines), Narrow Fabric Company (braided products), and Berkshire Knitting Mills (hosiery and fabrics) was incorporated at the site in 1906. By the 1940s, the enterprise had expanded to over 65 acres with one million square feet under roof and the largest automated foundry in the country.
The property was re-purposed when Vanity Fair Mills opened an “outlet store” in 1970 to sell excess inventory. This business model was a huge success, and the operation grew significantly through the 1980s. At its peak, over 6 million shoppers per year visited VF Outlets – the “Outlet Capital of the World.” With many newer facilities to choose from, however, the popularity of the aging facility declined in the 1990s. By 2015, much of the facility was vacant and underutilized. Equus Capital Partners, L.P. (Equus) purchased the complex in 2016 and began reimagining the site as a modern, mixed-use commercial and retail development.
Environmental Standards worked with Equus to conduct environmental due diligence prior to acquisition of the property. Formerly, portions of the property were used for textile manufacturing, auto repair, printing, dying, and as a foundry. In addition, multiple underground and aboveground storage tanks were used historically to store various petroleum products. A Phase I environmental site assessment conducted by Environmental Standards led to the conclusion that recognized environmental conditions (RECs) were present at certain portions of the property. As such, Environmental Standards conducted a series of soil and groundwater quality investigations starting in December 2015. The project was enrolled in Pennsylvania’s Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act program (Act 2), and assessment and remediation were overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). Individual parcels were systematically taken through the assessment and remediation process to address soil impacted with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and several metals. PA DEP approved a Final Report for the parcels comprising the former VF Outlet complex in 2016, thereby providing environmental liability protection under Act 2. This set the stage for the redevelopment to begin.
Equus’ overall vision and implementation of the Knitting Mills redevelopment is a story of innovation. The goal from the outset was to create a vibrant, modern, mixed-use facility that would serve as a center for innovation – much like the Berkshire Knitting Mills did in the past. The Knitting Mills redevelopment project has lived up to that vision and is helping to create a healthier and more vibrant community.
Watch for the upcoming September issue of our newsletter, The Standard, which will feature an article that will go into more detail about this project, the work we did, and the impact on the community.