A Foster For Philadelphia

 

Coming soon? Rumors say Liberty Property Trust has something big planned

Coming soon? Rumors say Liberty Property Trust has something big planned for Comcast | Photo/composite: Bradley Maule

With production levels at an all time high, Philadelphia’s rumor mill might have just earned itself a prize: a Pritzker Prize. While rumors abound regarding Liberty Property Trust’s plans at 18th & Arch for the growing Comcast empire—and how big they plan to build it—one thing is for certain: if it’s built, its architect will be Foster + Partners.

Based in London, Foster + Partners is helmed by Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, the 1999 recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The foremost of English architects, he designed the Millennium Bridge, Wembley Stadium, and 30 St Mary Axe (“The Gherkin”), all in London in the early 2000s. His firm also crafted the tallest bridge in the world, France’s Millau Viaduct, completed in 2004. Prior to that, his Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, opened 1997, was the tallest building in Europe for nearly a decade, and his HSBC Building was part of wave of skyscrapers that defined Hong Kong’s skyline when it opened in 1985. His Two World Trade Center, arguably the most attractive of the WTC replacement buildings in New York, is under construction.

The last published rendering for the Comcast Center complex still included the smaller Two Pennsylvania plaza, at left | Image: Robert A.M. Stern Architects

The last published rendering for the Comcast Center complex still included the smaller Two Pennsylvania plaza, at left | Image: Robert A.M. Stern Architects

In short, Foster is an enormous name to add to our own growing skyline and a big get for Liberty Property Trust, the company who has already redefined the Philly skyline twice. Then called Rouse & Associates, their One Liberty Place famously shattered the gentlemen’s agreement when it was announced in 1983 and handed William Penn his hat in 1987. Its Chrysler-esque blue chevrons, designed by Helmut Jahn, were then bested by Robert A.M. Stern’s Comcast Center, which Liberty opened in 2008.

Five years later, its primary tenant needs more space. A lot of it. Comcast Center has been at full capacity almost since it opened, Comcast themselves have leased out space in other Center City buildings, and there’s that side item of Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal. Certainly no one expects NBC to leave 30 Rock or anyone to ever exclaim “live from Philadelphia, it’s Saturday night,” but as a growing conglomerate in both the creation and delivery of content, the need for office space is a definite.

Six months after Comcast purchased the majority share in NBCUniversal in January 2011, Liberty Property Trust purchased the lot at 1800 Arch from Hill International. (Comcast completed their NBCU purchase in February of this year.) Liberty also owns the lot on the northwest corner of 19th & Arch, as well as the corner lot next to Comcast Center at 18th & JFK that’s long been a part of the Stern complex, a shorter building which mimics One Penn Center (Suburban Station).

Central Branch Y.W.C.A. postcard published by P. Sander, Philadelphia & Atlantic City for Sander's Art Series

“Central Branch Y.W.C.A.” postcard published by P. Sander, Philadelphia & Atlantic City for Sander’s Art Series

If completed, Foster + Partners’ Comcast building would bring the 1800 Arch site full circle. In 1892, with City Hall still under construction four blocks away, Philadelphia’s earliest steel frame building rose for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (later, Y.W.C.A.). The nine-story structure, designed by church architect Benjamin Price, stood until 1980, when it was demolished for the parking lot that remains today.

Various proposals for the lot have come down the pike, including a parking garage, an eight-story mall, a Bower Lewis Thrower designed residential tower for Interpark, and most notably, Hill International’s American Commerce Center. Kohn Pederson Fox designed the city’s would-be tallest building, a mixed-use complex with a hotel, cinema, shops, and offices rising 1,500′ to a spire.

When asked for comment, Foster + Partners referred all questions to Liberty Property Trust. Liberty, likewise, had no comment.

Until they do speak and an official announcement is made, let the speculation continue.

About the author

Bradley Maule is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland OR, Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.



22 Comments


  1. Actually it’s Baron (Lord) Foster of Thames Bank. He hasn’t been a mere Knight (Sir) since 1999. Like that matters a sh*t. One of his buildings will be great for the city. Shame the traffic into it is a disaster.

  2. Brad, love that you’re back on the Philly development scene. Maybe I’m reading the article wrong, but does Liberty have some agreement with F+P to ensure that they will design their next building? Simply put, how do you know that F+P will be the architect of potential building at 18th & JFK? Keep up the good work.

  3. If this building is constructed do you think we will have more tax revenue from Comcast and its employees living in Philadelphia to keep programs like public education afloat? Or will that money just be a drop in the the bucket to be mismanaged?

    • Assume a gain of 1,000 more employees, average wage of $60,000. 60% residing in the city, average property tax bill $1,500.

      Wage Tax: $2,251,440
      Property Taxes: $900,000
      Estimated New Resident Local Sales Tax Generated: $360,000
      Property Sales Tax: $1,500,000

      Total: $5,011,440

      Completely back of the napkin estimates, does not factor in business side taxes, such as net receipts taxes. Not sure how these would shift for Comcast or what they would be.

      Next year\’s school budget is expected to increase by $55 million ( $48 mil for pension and healthcare obligations) over this year, so no. This won\’t even make a dent in the increase, let alone cover the current gap.

  4. Wow, this is fascinating. I can’t wait to see what happens.

  5. How is anything confirmed or certain? This just sounds like more grist for the rumor mill.

  6. I hope they find a bigger lot and build more than one building. Philadelphia\’s skyline would be better served by building several skyscrapers (maybe around 600+ feet) than one massive boondoggle.

  7. Love Foster\’s work, but starchitecture will not widen the 17th century street grid, or create user friendly 24 hour public transit. Philly doesn\’t need more density in Market West, or glamour buildings (however lovely they may be) it needs more intelligent land use for the city we actually have.

  8. Whats wrong with LIVE FROM PHILADELPHIA !!!! ? I\’m not saying NBC should move all their operation to Philly , But HEY ! We\’ve got many old theaters that could be renovated for say a new talk show or sitcom . It\’s probably cheaper here in Philly than NYC OR LA to produce a show. Why can\’t Comcast spread some of it around ?

  9. I hope it\’s a frigin tall one, I was not crazy about the design of the proposed American Commerce Center, but I was still bummed when I found out it was not going to happen.

    I\’m hoping Foster has a good looking design in the works….and make sure it includes a \”mini\” William Penn statue on the top to help the Phillies out again.

    The stupid curse is back on since the original \”Mini Will\” on comcast got stolen – Got to respect that Quaker

  10. What’s Up “Hidden City”?

  11. Nice shout-out from Inga!

    So glad to have you back in Philly.

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