Pulse: Power: They’re Building It. Will Anybody Come?

Selling the new Comcast Tower, one hug at a time

It was, to say the least, a sweet deal: The state would designate the plot of land at 17th and JFK Boulevard as a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone; real estate giant Liberty Property Trust would build a 57-story skyscraper; Comcast would get fancy new headquarters; other tenants would flock to the building, and everyone involved would get some hefty tax breaks. Peace and happiness would prevail throughout the land.

That was the idea, anyway. But as we all know, after bitter opposition from a group of Center City landlords, legislators killed any chance for a KOIZ designation. Comcast will still get its fancy new building, of course, and — thanks to Governor Ed Rendell — the project will still get $43 million in state subsidies. The big breaks for other tenants, however, are off the table, which leads to one obvious question for the building’s landlord: In a market where the vacancy rate isn’t far south of 20 percent, is anybody going to sign up for what will surely be the most expensive office space in town?

Liberty Property’s John Gattuso says the company isn’t worried, largely because of the Comcast Center’s eco- and worker-friendly design. The building will incorporate 11-foot windows, liberal use of natural and indirect lighting, and environmental systems designed to improve air quality — features that Liberty is using to target “leading-edge” tenants, he says. “We’ve found from other projects that sustainable, cutting-edge green design increases worker satisfaction, increases productivity and reduces sick days.”

It all sounds very nice (and very California). But can the kumbaya sales pitch fly in Philly, where “touchy-feely” means a bar brawl and a good frisking by the cops? “We know this isn’t going to be for everyone,” Gattuso says. “But we’re confident there are people willing to pay for it.”

Even tree-huggers have to cover payroll, though. One prospective tenant confirmed that it had planned to move into the tower, but dropped out when the legislature scuttled the KOIZ. Sans tax breaks, the price was too high. Dave Campoli, the Center City landlord who vigorously opposed tax breaks for the project, puts it a little more bluntly. “The only thing green that people are willing to pay a premium for are Eagles tickets.”