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How Techies are Changing Philly

Coldwell Banker Commercial’s Peter Rothberg and Jonathan Dubrow has watched the tech scene take off over the last five years, and now Old City and Northern Liberties are attracting techies and entrepreneurs with plans for growth and a love of throwback office space. We snapped the duo in front of their Old City office yesterday; Jonathan calls this boom an organic growth phenomenon as these tenants attract like-minded talent through word of mouth and then expand operations. This means arranging leases with growth in mind. (It's like when you were in your early teens and your mom had to buy your pants oversized so you'd grow into them.)

Peter and Jonathan count Artisan Mobile as one of their success stories; the startup has grown its space three times in three years as it's expanded from 2,000 to 12k SF, at their current digs on the 200 block of Market (pictured). Other Old City startups include Angel S. Design, Revlyst, United by Blue, United Incentives, and vRide. City Hall’s tax incentives are a plus, although Jonathan believes that more targeted job creation packages can bring more companies in. That said, companies with multi-city presences are very interested in having Philly as a part of their East Coast representation.

The real selling point for the tech community is the aesthetic: historic building spaces with hardwood and polished cement floors, exposed brick walls and support beams, high ceilings and flexible open-floor plans. (Not to mention the ghost of the original innovator, Ben Franklin.) The raw space is also appealing to landlords because of its minimal build-out, Peter adds. Here’s one 1,900 SF space at 1010 N Hancock in a former Schmidt’s Brewery building, which includes enhanced security systems as well as that classy tech vibe. The space was vacated by Bluecadet when they outgrew it and found new accommodations on Frankford Avenue last year. 

If there's one drag on the local tech scene, it may be that doesn't have enough name recognition. But that too is changing: What began as a joking reference to the North 3rd corridor from Market to Girard has turned into the N3RD Street marketing campaign. (When all else fails, puns will prevail.) Indy Hall founder Alex Hillman, Jarvus' Danny Harvith, and the Old City District (on whose board Peter sits) lobbied hard for the recognition, and commemorative street signs will be unveiled at a ceremony and barbecue as part of Philly Tech Week on Friday.

The newest believer in Philly’s tech environment is Kushner Companies. After acquiring the Piazza and Liberties Walk in Northern Liberties last year, the NYC developer hired CBC to handle the office leasing. Now CBC is garnering interest from potential tenants to fill up a variety of spaces ranging from 400 to 20k SF.