Drexel University pulls plug on Placer County campus

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Drexel University's plans for a Placer County campus are no longer feasible, the Philadelphia-based school's top official is now telling county counterparts. President John Fry wrote to Placer County this past week stating the university is backing away from a proposal that would have seen 600 acres of now-undeveloped west Placer County land donated for a campus. Plans were for a group led by Sacramento's Tsakopoulos family business to donate 1,158 acres, with the remaining land to be sold for a mixed-use development that would fund the initial campus construction. Placer County approvals for rezoning on the property were given by the Board of Supervisors in late 2008. At the time, Drexel was establishing a graduate school in Sacramento and envisioning campuses on both coasts. It currently has 21,000 students on an 80-acre campus in Philadelphia. Fry said a thorough assessment of the proposed project preceded a decision not to move forward. "I have concluded that the construction of a brand new campus in Placer County is no longer feasible," Fry said. "Rather than wait for the end of our five-year option, we believe it is appropriate to step back at this time so the opportunity can be made to others." Fry said the decision has no impact on the future of Drexel University's Center for Graduate Studies, which opened two years ago in Sacramento and now offers eight programs. Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes said the decision not to continue was disappointing but not surprising. The drive by Drexel for a California campus had been led by President Constantine Papadakis and when he died suddenly in 2009, Holmes sensed a change in direction would occur. “He was a dynamic leader and we knew there would be changes at the top,” Holmes said. “I went to his funeral and sensed at that time that the dynamics would change.” The Drexel site on parcels adjacent to Roseville was to have been the center for a specific plan supported by the Placer County Board of Supervisors that calls for 3,232 homes, 1,155 more dwelling units on the university campus, 22 acres of property for commercial uses and 220 acres of park, open space and public lands. Julie Hanson, project manager for the Tsakopoulos family's AKT development business, said the decision was disappointing. "But we're thrilled with Drexel's re-affirmed commitment to serving the Greater Sacramento community with top-ranked graduate programs and, perhaps, programs to help undergraduates complete their degrees." Hanson said the ownership group is looking forward to working with community and education leaders in the region to help identify another candidate for the land donation. "Since we started this effort nearly a decade ago, two universities - William Jessup in Rocklin and Drexel in Sacramento - have located in our region as a direct result of this initiative," Hanson said. The proposal had earned criticism from the Sierra Club when it was first proposed. Representatives of the conservation organization said the project opened up land owned by Tsakopoulos for development by connecting Roseville properties with parcels on the Sutter County line – and enhancing the likelihood other Tsakopoulos holdings would receive urban entitlements in the future. Hanson’s response was that the parcel had been targeted as a logical site for development for many years by Placer County.