The Cira Centre building next to 30th Street Station, in University City, is a dramatic presence on the city’s skyline. It is a 28-storey office building, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, with outer walls and a roof at diagonal angles and patterned lights surrounding the outer walls at night. It was built about five years ago, by Brandywine Realty Trust, as a way to develop the area around the train station and old post office into a distinct business district. The state and city have tried to encourage that by declaring the area a “Keystone Opportunity Improvement Zone”, which eliminates most state and city taxes for a fixed period of time.
The Cira Centre has been successful. Most of the companies and jobs that have relocated to the building are from outside the city limits. The largest tenant is a European toiletry company, called SCA, that relocated its U.S. headquarters from Delaware County. The building has really capitalized on its location between the city’s main financial district, in Center City, and the high-tech corridor in University City, as the four largest venture capital companies (companies that invest in high-tech firms) in the Delaware Valley have their headquarters in that building.
The Cira Centre also stands out because it is clearly the tallest building in that neighborhood, and the tallest building west of the Schuylkill River. Brandywine Realty has been wanting to add new buildings nearby for some time now. They announced the Cira Centre South development in 2007, on land that the University of Pennsylvania owns that used to have the Post Office Annex. Penn bought the land just west of the Schuylkill Expressway, from Chestnut Street to South Street, in 2007 from the U.S. Postal Service to expand their campus in several ways. Brandywine has agreed to lease the land between Chestnut and Walnut for 90 years in order to develop Cira Centre South. They demolished the Postal Annex a couple of years ago. The economy has stalled the project, but it is likely to be one of the first new projects built when the economy gets strong enough for major new construction to go forward. What many people don’t know, however, is that Brandywine intends to build another tall building, called Cira Centre II, behind 30th Street Station, after they complete Cira Centre South.
Cira Centre South, also designed by Cesar Pelli, will consist of two highrise buildings, one on Chestnut Street and one on Walnut Street, and a large parking garage. The garage has already been built and will have 2,400 spaces, 1,600 of which will be reserved for the IRS workers who are moving into the renovated 30th Street Post Office, across Chestnut Street. The first floor of the garage, along 30th Street, has retail space, including the headquarters of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, and soon an Old Nelson convenience store. The Chestnut Street tower will be about 25 to 30 storeys tall and will have rental apartments and retail on Chestnut Street. The Walnut Street tower will be 40 to 50 storeys tall and will have about 500,000 square feet of office space, 115,000 of which will be used by Penn, 50 condominiums, a hotel, and retail on Walnut Street. The large financial firm Blackrock was considering moving into the Walnut Street tower, but the recession has caused them to wait. The city and state have extended the period for the KOIZ tax breaks until 2025 as an incentive to get a tenant soon.
The Cira Centre II building wouldn’t start construction until the Cira Centre South buildings have been leased to office tenants and at least begin construction. That building will be about 54 storeys, about twice as tall as the first Cira Centre building. It resembles the first building in design except that it is faced the opposite way, as if the first Cira building was turned around and twice as tall.
These series of developments would join a proposed hotel, developed by Drexel University at 30th & Market Streets, and public space improvements, like the “Station Square” project that would completely rebuild the block of Market imbetween 30th Street Station and the old Post Office, and the Penn Park, being built imbetween Walnut and South Streets. These series of developments and improvements could definitely encourage more private developments, such as at the Parking Authority’s garage on Market, the big parking lot behind the Post Office redevelopment, and on JFK Boulevard behind 30th Street Station. The area can become another major business district, with a high-tech focus, and could bridge the two big employment centers of Center City and University City. It, also, would create a new skyline for University City, or extend the city’s skyline westward, depending on how you look at it.
You can view pictures of the model for Cira South and Cira II, that I found at the Brandywine Realty office at Cira Centre, and renderings that I found. I, also, have links to the Penn website above and an article in the Pennsylvania Gazette here.