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Can Historic Buildings Bounce Back?


For a contrast in Philadelphia office stories that's starker than Jimmy Stewart standing next to Rob McElhenney, look no further than the intersection of 17th and Arch streets in Center City. In one corner you have 1701 Arch, aka the Robert Morris Building (reflected, left), which has gone the way of many historic Center City offices—converted into 111 luxury apartments. Mallin Panchelli Nadell Realty prez Ken Mallin—who brokered the sale of both 1701 and the 24-story 1616 Walnut, also under conversion—says rents haven't been high enough to justify office use the last five to six years. However, a way to combat this is for a large, A-quality user to move in—not unlike Comcast, whose shiny HQ towers over 1701 Arch from across the street. Comcast's digs are overfilling with 3,500 employees, and whispers suggest it's looking to expand.


Office conversions have also played a big role in the rise of the Navy Yard in South Philly where, thanks to a combo of incentives, including tax credits and a verdant campus setting, businesses and startups are flocking. (Have an idea for a business that requires periscopes? You're in luck.) Several handsome old military quarters are getting a second life, as well as Building 101, which currently has two spaces totaling 10k SF available for lease. Whoever occupies them will have Penn State's EEB Hub as its neighbor, and the HQ for Urban Outfitters, housed in a one-time naval facility, is within jogging distance. But unless your company sponsors Village People Fridays, you probably won't be seeing anyone in uniform down there.