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Comcast Center is a skyscraper in Center Citymarker, Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, United States. The 58-story, tower is the tallest building in Philadelphia and the fifteenth tallest building in the United States. Originally called One Pennsylvania Plaza when the building was first announced in 2001, the Comcast Center went through two redesigns before construction began in 2005. Designed by architect Robert A. M. Stern for Liberty Property Trust, the Comcast Center was delayed as the developers tried to get the Center designated a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone. The designation would exempt tenants from most taxes for fifteen years as a way to encourage development in disadvantaged areas. Giving the Comcast Center the designation was supported by many state and city officials who hoped to keep corporations within Philadelphia, but was strongly opposed by other building owners who felt the building would have an unfair advantage in attracting tenants. Even though the bill was not approved in the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2004, Liberty Property Trust went forward with construction.

At the beginning of 2005, the final redesign and its new name the Comcast Center was unveiled. The building is named after its lead tenant, cable company Comcast, which makes the skyscraper its corporate headquarters. Leasing , Comcast takes up 89 percent of the building. The building features retail and restaurant space and a connection to the nearby Suburban Stationmarker. In Comcast Center's lobby is the Comcast Experience, which is a high-definition LED screen that has become a tourist attraction. Designed to be environmentally friendly, the skyscraper is the tallest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified building in the United States.

History

In 2000, architect Robert A. M. Stern began working on a design for a skyscraper being planned by Liberty Property Trust in Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker. In 2001, Liberty Property Trust announced its plan to build the 52-story One Pennsylvania Plaza in Center Citymarker. Anticipated to cost US$400 million, One Pennsylvania Plaza was going to be tall and made of kasota stone similar to the Philadelphia Museum of Artmarker. The site for the future skyscraper was at 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, a site occupied by a building that housed the Defender Association of Philadelphia and a parking lot. Demolition of the building began in 2002 and ended in 2003.

Cable company Comcast had been looking for possible new headquarters space in anticipation of the end of its lease in Centre Squaremarker in 2006. Comcast was looking for more than of office space and developers were actively courting the company for their developments. Comcast was the only employer in the city with major expansion plans at the time. Comcast was considering staying in Centre Square, while also contemplating moving their headquarters to the new Cira Centremarker building or One Pennsylvania Plaza. Comcast was spread out over 10 floors in two buildings at Centre Square and wanted space on contiguous floors. In January 2004, Liberty Property Trust unveiled a redesign for the building. The redesign turned One Pennsylvania Plaza into a 60-story, tower, making it the tallest building in the city. In the redesign, the kasota stone was changed to a lighter granite and a short pyramidal roof was added. The redesign was a result of discussions that had begun in 2003 with Comcast about moving into the tower.

Controversy

Liberty Property Trust hoped to get the One Pennsylvania Plaza site designated a Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone (KOZ). A KOZ was designed to encourage development in poor, blighted areas by exempting the tenants of the building from all state and local taxes. Designating One Pennsylvania Plaza a KOZ was supported by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who said it was important to keep corporations within the city. At the time, many of Philadelphia's big employers' leases, including Comcast's, were set to expire, and the employers were considering the possibility of moving out of the city and state. Rendell also said allowing Comcast to enlarge its headquarters by moving into One Pennsylvania Plaza could attract other corporate headquarters to the city. However, other Center City building owners, including Comcast's landlord at Centre Square, HRPT Properties Trust, were opposed to the plan. They said giving the tower the KOZ designation would give it an unfair advantage because Liberty Property Trust could charge above market rents since the tax breaks would offset the cost for tenants. The group believed tenants attracted to One Pennsylvania Plaza because of the tax breaks would cause more vacancies in other Center City skyscrapers. In early 2004, Center City had a vacancy rate of 12.8 percent.

Both sides of the issue hired law firms, lobbyists, and business associates to promote their positions to city and state officials. A report by the Center City District said if both One Pennsylvania Plaza and the Cira Centre, another skyscraper in the KOZ controversy, were filled by corporations moving from other Center City office towers, the city could lose US$153 million by 2018. A report released by the group of building owners opposed to KOZ says the two buildings could cost the city almost US$91 million a year. In contrast, a report issued by a consulting company hired by Liberty Property Trust said that a KOZ designation for the skyscraper could generate US$27 million for the city. Critics of the KOZ designation also accused that close relationships between Liberty Property Trust and Comcast and the Rendell administration were inappropriately influencing the governor's position on the issue. When Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia, David L. Cohen, a Comcast executive vice president, was Rendell's chief of staff, and William P. Hankowsky, Liberty Property Trust's chief executive, was director of Philadelphia's development agency. Rendell dismissed the claims saying "Every building owner in town was a contributor to me."

Chances the bill would be passed ended in November 2004 when House Republicans in the Pennsylvania General Assembly decided to not bring the bill to a vote. Later that year, Governor Rendell released US$30 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Budget to Liberty Property Trust. Through the state's Department of Economic and Community Development, Comcast received US$12.75 million that included a US$4 million opportunity grant, US$6.75 million in job creation tax credits, and US$2 million in job training assistance. Despite the failure of receiving KOZ status, the project received US$42.75 million in financial incentives from the state.

Construction

Comcast Center under construction 2007.
On January 3, 2004, Liberty Property Trust signed a 15 1/2 year lease with Comcast and a construction contract with L.F. Driscoll Co. Liberty Property Trust also unveiled another redesign of the building and its new name, the Comcast Center. The now , 58-story Comcast Center would no longer have a pyramid top and would have a complete glass facade. The official groundbreaking ceremony was on March 31, 2005. The ceremony, which was held at night, featured a light show coordinated with the song "Elevations". The song was composed specifically for the event by Curtis Institute of Musicmarker graduate Steven Hackman and recorded by the Curtis Institute of Music Orchestra. The groundbreaking also featured Kodo, the Germantown High Schoolmarker Drum Line, and a tall ice sculpture of the Comcast Center.

As the building was under construction, in March 2006, Liberty Property Trust ran into trouble with Philadelphia's Plumbers Union Local 690, which had issues with the building's waterless urinals. The waterless urinals were part of the plan to make the Comcast Center an environmentally friendly building because they would save an extra 1.6 million gallons of water a year. The plumbers union opposed the waterless urinals, claiming they were unsanitary and would provide less work for the plumbers. Philadelphia's Plumbing Advisory Board approved the waterless urinals on April 5 after a compromise, which stated that the building's owners and city officials would monitor the performance of the waterless urinals, was reached. Piping that would allow water to flow to the urinals in case they needed to be converted was installed in the Comcast Center, which Liberty Property Trust says was always part of the building's plan.

Comcast Center's concrete core.
A week later, on April 13, Liberty Property Trust sold an 80 percent interest in the Comcast Center to German real estate firm CommerzLeasing & Immobilien AG, a subsidiary of Commerzbank AG. The deal completed Liberty Property Trust's planned recapitalization of the anticipated cost of the building, and the value of the joint venture, called Liberty/Commerz 1701 JFK Boulevard L.P., included mortgage debt and equity.

On June 18, 2007, the Comcast Center was topped off. The ceremony, which was held in the building's future plaza, featured the raising of a steel beam to the skyscraper's highest point. The beam was signed by workers and guests and as it was raised, on account of tradition, an American flag and a tree sat on the beam. Also sitting on the beam was a statue of Philadelphia founder William Penn. The statue was there to counteract the 1980s "curse" of Billy Penn where Philadelphia's sports teams haven't won a championship since buildings were built taller than the statue of William Penn on top of the Philadelphia City Hallmarker. The statue of William Penn stood there until it was apparently stolen. The statue was replaced and the "curse" ended when the Philadelphia Phillies won the 2008 World Series.

Even though the building wasn't officially opened, Comcast office workers began moving in early December 2007. The Comcast Center officially opened on June 6, 2008. A study sponsored by Comcast and Liberty Property Trust said the construction of the Comcast Center created 17,200 jobs and generated US$2 billion of economic activity for Pennsylvania. Despite opposition by other building owners to construction of the Comcast Center, by the time most space in the Comcast Center had been leased vacancy rates in Center City offices were falling and rents were rising. Even HRPT Properties Trust had leased 70 percent of the space Comcast vacated by 2007. The predictions by opponents did not occur mainly because Comcast ended up leasing 89 percent of the building and the offices for the Comcast Center's second largest tenant, Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, were new to the city.

Building

The Comcast Center is a 58-story, glass skyscraper located at 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tower is the tallest building in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania and is the fifteenth tallest building in the United States (and tenth tallest by roof height). The Comcast Center has 58 floors, of which 56 are occupiable. The structure of the Comcast Center comprises a central concrete core with steel framed floors. The building's exterior features a glass curtain wall made of lightly tinted, non-reflective low-emissivity glass. The tower tapers inward towards the top and features two cutouts near the top of the building on the north and south sides. To prevent the tower from swaying too much in the wind, the Comcast Center contains a 300,000 gallon double-chambered concrete tuned liquid column damper, the largest such damper in North America. Receiving a gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating in April 2009, the Comcast Center is the tallest LEED building in the United States. The building was designed to use 40 percent less water than a typical office building, and the plaza was designed to reduce heat-island effect from the pavement by 70 percent. Reducing air conditioning and lighting costs, the low-emissivity glass curtain wall blocks 60 percent of heat while allowing 70 percent of the Sun's light inside.

The skyscraper has of rentable space, including of restaurant and retail space called The Market at the Comcast Center. of retail space is on the underground concourse while the rest is located on the street level. The building features high ceilings with some floors having a ceiling height of . The lower floors on the south side of the building feature four three-story stacked atrias. The building also features a 500-seat concourse level dining court and an 87-space private underground parking garage. ThyssenKrupp provided the building's 30 gearless elevators, seven hydraulic elevators, and two escalators.

The Comcast Center faces a half-acre public plaza. The plaza, designed by Olin Partnership, sits over underground railroad tracks, and features a seasonal outdoor restaurant, Plaza Cafe at Table 31, that sits under a trellis. Between the cafe and the building entrance is a choreographed fountain designed by Wet Design. The tower's entrance is a tall winter garden. The winter garden entrance directly connects to the underground concourse of Suburban Stationmarker. The building also has a lobby entrance that leads to the Arch Street Presbyterian Church adjacent to the tower.

The exterior lighting scheme of the building was designed by Quentin Thomas Associates, and consists primarily of white LEDs color-temperature matched to the fluorescent lights used by the interior. Along each floor, the corner spandrel panels feature upward and downward facing 4,100K LEDs to create the appearance that the length of the building has been bottom-lit by spotlights. The only major color element can be found at the top of the tuned mass damper; a single row of color-changing LEDs that is programed to commemorate special events. For example, the top would be colored pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron described the Comcast Center as "a respectable work of architecture" that was "dignified in its stance on the grid, generous in its relationship to the city, responsible in its treatment of the environment." She felt the tower's shape reminded her of a giant flash drive. Saffron said the building excelled at the street level, praising the plaza, concourse, and its connection to Suburban Station. In 2009 the Comcast Center was awarded the Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence in the Americas category for the transformation of what was once mostly a vacant lot into a transit gateway.

Art

People watching the Comcast Experience holiday show in 2008.
The Comcast Center's winter garden entrance contains two works of installation art. The Comcast Experience is a tall, wide, high-definition LED screen situated on a wall in the winter garden. The screen is composed of 6,771 Barco NX-4 LED modules. The installation, designed and produced by Niles Creative Group, premiered on June 6, 2008, and runs eighteen hours each day. The content of the video includes panoramic views of Philadelphia historic sites, images of space, dancers, acrobats and actors moving around a background designed to mimic wood paneling of the walls of the lobby. Another part of the installation displays images of cranes and machinery forming into a clock which tells the correct time of day.

The Comcast Experience quickly became a popular tourist attraction, prompting city officials to add the Comcast Center to its tourism website. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day 2008, a holiday video was included as part of the installation.

The second piece of art is Jonathan Borofsky's Humanity in Motion. Located in the glass atrium of the winter garden, Humanity in Motion shows ten life-size human figures walking across ten horizontal poles positioned at different levels of the atrium. At ground level, looking up at the stainless steel figures, are two more figures shaped to look like a father and son.

Tenants

Comcast is the skyscraper's largest tenant, leasing , or 89 percent of the building. The second largest tenant is Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, which leases of office and retail space. Other tenants include TelAmerica Media Inc., which leases , Center City Film and Video, which leases and the Judge Group, which leases .

Comcast's office space was designed by Daroff Design + DDI Architects and Gensler. Comcast's space is topped by a conference room floor with the executive offices on the four floors below it. Below that are more offices and then, on the 43rd and 44th floors, is Ralph's Cafe, a two story cafeteria space for employees. Below the cafe is the training center called Comcast University. The rest of the space is used for content and programing teams and customer service. The interior design of the offices are designed with a variety of shape and color ranging from the open white space of the upper offices to the colorful walls of the training center. Other designs include a glass and stainless steel staircase that wraps around a four-story column of flat-screen monitors and connects the executive floors and a wall of color changing LEDs on the 44th floor of Ralph's Cafe.

The retail portion of the tower includes numerous shops and eateries. The shops and eateries include national and regional chains and a restaurant called Table 31. Table 31, which has a cafe on the plaza and a restaurant spread over three floors in the tower, is owned by Philadelphia restaurateurs and chefs Georges Perrier and Chris Scarduzio. The restaurant is named after a popular table at a former Perrier and Scarduzio called Brasserie Perrier. The underground concourse features the Sony Style Comcast Labs, which showcases Sony products and opened on March 17, 2009.

References

  1. Gibbons , Kent. Philly Critic: Comcast Tower Looks Like ‘Giant Flash Drive’, Multichannel News, 6/2/2008


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