Word begins circulating that a new skyscraper is in the works. Behind the scenes, Liberty Property Trust and Robert A.M. Stern are sharing ideas about the tower.

These two early images are featured in Robert A.M. Stern Buildings and Projects 1999-2003. The first, the earliest incarnation of One Pennsylvania Plaza, is 869ft (264m) while the second is 1030ft (314m).


Liberty Property Trust announces they're planning to build the 750' One Pennsylvania Plaza at 17th & JFK, making it the fourth tallest building in the city. It is to be made of a golden kasota stone, similar to that found in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This is chosen due in part to its dramatic coloring during sunrise and sunset.

(Editor's note: I had only been in Philadelphia for six months when I read this story in the Inquirer, and having always been fascinated by skyscrapers, I took special interest since this would have been the first skyscraper I ever watched grow from the ground up. Instead, the St James and Cira Centre came first, but I'm still most interested in this one. Indirectly, Comcast Center is responsible for Philly Skyline.)

Some images of the first design presented to the public.


Demolition of the Public Defenders Building (17th & Arch) begins. The mural below was on the west side of the building; this picture was taken in May, just before demolition took it down. The ensuing pictures are at various stages just before and during its demolition.

Posters were then installed on site with the image below. The posters read "Introducing Center City's newest landmark; September 2004."

This was the accompanying skyline rendering (which was not on the posters):


With demolition of the Public Defenders Building complete, the site is cleared and prepped for construction. Meanwhile, red tape postpones groundbreaking.


While seemingly nothing is going on, Liberty and architect Robert A.M. Stern are reworking the design with a 'major' tenant in mind. Then in January 2004: the Inquirer broke the news that a new design would make One Pennsylvania Plaza the tallest building in Philadelphia, at 962', 17' taller than One Liberty Place (which was also developed by Liberty Property Trust). Major changes include the color from the golden kasota stone to a lighter shaded granite, and a gradient pyramidal roof.

The news story included the following two illustrations by the Inquirer:

After this is announced, it is also made public that Liberty and Comcast (never really a secret about being the lead tenant) are trying to work out a situation that would grant them Keystone Opportunity Zone (KOZ) status, a new-business initiative started by then-governor Tom Ridge to encourage development in areas in need of assistance. Therein lie a controversy: this proposed tower was on a prime slice of urban real estate in a relatively healthy downtown, and other building owners weren't hearing it.

Mayor John Street and now-governor Ed Rendell (whose gubernatorial campaign had contributors from Comcast) backed the KOZ status, but Pennsylvania state legislature did not, as evidenced by a long, drawn out, ugly battle in Harrisburg over the course of 2004. Ultimately, the KOZ was nixed, but Rendell managed a $40M+ grant to get the project rolling once and for all. And fair enough, as the Suburban Station aspect of the project is worth that alone in state money.

Bird's eye view of construction site, circa late-2004:


Reworked once again (and thankfully dropping the mini-pyramid), this time in all glass, Liberty, Comcast and the city held a joint press conference to announce the project, renamed Comcast Center, was definitely a go.

The press conference was jubilant and major. Summarized, it went:

"This is good." - Comcast CEO Brian Roberts
"This is great." - Liberty CEO Bill Hankowsky
"This is awesome" - Mayor John Street
"This rules, go Eagles!" - Governor Ed Rendell (via telephone)
"Wait, we still don't want this to happen." - The Center City Building Owners Association Guy

So after nearly four years, Philadelphia has gone from a decent announcement of a new office tower to heated wrangling around the state to getting a sparkling, fantastic new tallest building, that oh by the way will also incorporate a new, grand terminal to Suburban Station.

Here are the specs, found mostly in THIS PDF.

NAME: Comcast Center (not to be confused with the University of Maryland's basketball arena).

HEIGHT: 975' (297.18m), 57 stories.

DEVELOPERS: Liberty Property Trust (who broke Philadelphia's gentlemen's agreement to not build higher than City Hall with Liberty Place, as well as contributing the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Kimmel Center).

ARCHITECTS: Robert A.M. Stern (who also designed 10 Rittenhouse Square, a 33 story condo tower on the Square beginning construction in 2006).

FEATURES: 57 stories, 35 elevators, 13-to-17 foot ceilings on every floor, a half-acre park at street level, a giant atrium (which looks to amount to about 18-20 stories) and winter garden that will serve as the main concourse to a renovated Suburban Station, the multi-nodal transit station serving commuter rail, both subway lines and the trolleys. A half-acre landscaped park facing JFK Boulevard, named Liberty Plaza, will include a fountain built into the sidewalk (similar to Pittsburgh's PPG Place complex). A 110 ft atrium will welcome commuters from Suburban Station into the building and the Plaza. Finally, it will be the tallest LEED certified green building in the US upon completion, featuring such environmentally friendly items as tall windows for natural light, waterless urinals (saving over a million gallons of water a year), and an interally managed accent evening lighting scheme which can change colors.

Phase II will be a second, 16 story tower.

TIMEFRAME: groundbreaking January 2005, construction till third quarter in 2007.

JOBS CREATED: 600 for Comcast alone once the tower opens (which they hope to increase to as many as 2000), 4-5000 temporary construction jobs.

COST: approximately $465M.

In April, Liberty held an opening ceremony for the building on-site with a theme that Liberty and Comcast marched to their own beat, and on this theme they featured drum sets by the Kodo Drummers and the drum line from Germantown High School, from which Comcast's founder Sam Roberts graduated. A Curtis Music Institute student, Steven Hackman, composed a piece called "Elevations" for the occasion, during which an impressive light show was launched skyward and on the sides of surrounding skyscrapers including the Bell Atlantic Tower, 1650 Arch (Cigna Annex), Mellon Bank Center and One Liberty Place. Sam and Brian Roberts, Bill Hankowsky, Bob Stern, John Gattuso and Mayor John Street all spoke briefly to herald the building and the event, and oh my god you should have tasted the beef that was served underneath the six foot ice sculpture of the building. To mark the event, Liberty handed out a complementary pair of drumsticks with the Comcast Center logo and the following poster encapsulating the project's evolution.

By the end of 2005, Comcast Center already appeared in the Office Building Catalog.

As work on the building continued throughout 2005, a few interesting notes popped up along the way.

While New York City and New York State try to get all their heads -- George Pataki's, Larry Silverstein's, David Childs', Mike Bloomberg's -- in the same place and figure out just what in THEE HELL is supposed to happen with the World Trade Center site, be it a "Freedom Tower" or a rebuilt Twin Towers or, as we can plainly see nearly five years post-9/11, NOTHING, one of the key issues is how to perfectly and humbly bring something as significant as the Twin Towers back yet be graceful. David Childs is the head architect working on it, and his most recent version of the so-called Freedom Tower looked pret-ty similar to one of Bob Stern's early Comcast Center sketches. Observe:

(NY Post)

Finally, here are some composites Philly Skyline has put together in anticipation of Comcast Center's completion.

Thanks for sticking around until the end. The images above are largely courtesy of Liberty Property Trust, Robert A.M. Stern Architects and the Inquirer. Now that you've got the back story, why not check into the now story and go check ...