Philly Newspapers Sue Landlord Over Lack of Signage at Headquarters

PMN wants $3.5 million for its forced anonymity.

The entrance to PMN's headquarters at Eighth and Market streets.

The entrance to PMN’s headquarters at Eighth and Market streets.

The Inquirer and Daily News once occupied one of the most easily recognized buildings in Philadelphia — the 18-floor tower on North Broad Street that suggested the newspapers had managed to build their very own fortress.

These days? The papers can’t even get a good sign to advertise the location of their current headquarters at Eighth and Market streets, leaving the journalists there to practice in relative anonymity.

That’s why the papers’ owner, Philadelphia Media Network, filed suit against its landlord this month, seeking more than $3.5 million in damages: Signs identifying the headquarters of the city’s largest news organization were promised in the company’s lease of the former Strawbridge & Clothier department store, its lawyers say, and the landlords still haven’t made good.

“There is no excuse for landlord’s non-performance of its obligations,” PMN’s lawyers said in their court filing.

But the landlords — a collection of limited liability companies that includes Preit, the company redeveloping The Gallery — say they do have an excuse: City Hall is getting in the way.

Specifically, they say, city officials won’t give permission to install the signs until the landlords invest $10 million in the property. The dispute? City Hall says that $10 million must be spent on improvements in the “public space” — any money spent on improving the building internally doesn’t count. That was too much for the landlords.

“This, of course, was not realistic or, we believe, the express language of the code,” Preit attorney Christopher Mrozinski said in a March letter to PMN’s attorneys. But in the absence of City Hall approval, he said the landlords would be willing to pay $85,000 to resolve the matter with PMN.

PMN, instead, chose to sue — suggesting the failure to win city approval for the signs was the result of the landlord’s own choices. The company’s attorneys pointed across the street to the aptly named Lit Brothers building, now crowned with a scrolling video sign that can be seen for miles, as proof that city approval is attainable.

The landlords did install a digital news ticker at the building in August, but other signs — including those proposed to identify the Eighth Street entrance to the papers’ lobby, remain absent.

PMN pays an annual rent of more than $2 million on the property, where the newsrooms moved in summer 2012. The $3.5 million in damages it seeks is based on a formula in the lease, which offers a rental abatement for each day the signs remain uninstalled; the company is also seeking additional fees for additional days of signlessness following the filing of the suit.

A PMN spokesman did not comment. Representatives of other parties were not immediately available for comment.

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