Comcast development bills breeze through Planning Commission

The City Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend five bills aimed at smoothing the course for what will be Philadelphia’s tallest building, the new Comcast tower at 18th and Arch streets in Center City.

The bills were introduced in Council at the end of January, and will be heard in back-to-back committee hearings next Tuesday, February 25th, starting at noon. The bills make various zoning changes to allow the new tower to be built without further approvals, such as raising the maximum density bonuses that the developer, Liberty Property Trust, can claim. They also upzone the property from CMX-4 to CMX-5, and remove the parcel from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway zoning overlay, which has a height limit of 125 feet.

Other bills authorize encroachments on the public right-of-way and adjustments to public streets.

Liberty’s John Gattuso said the project, which is estimated to cost $1.2 billion, will begin construction this summer and be completed by the end of 2017. It will include a 222-room Four Seasons hotel, two restaurants, and a water-and-glass sculpture inside the main entrance facing 18th Street.

The project also entails the extension of the SEPTA regional rail concourse across 18th Street, for which the state and city have contributed a combined $40 million dollars. Aside from that public contribution, Gattuso told PlanPhilly, the development will be financed entirely by Comcast and Liberty. (Comcast will be able to take advantage of job-creation tax credits once it starts bringing in new employees.)

Gattuso said that Liberty’s “biggest miss” in building the first Comcast tower—the soon-to-be second-tallest building in the city—was not including enough bicycle parking. The new tower will include spaces for approximately 175 bikes, Gattuso said.

“It’s the biggest thing we missed in the first building, because we just didn’t have the prototype or the history,” Gattuso said. “And almost from the first day of operation, the 25 bike racks we had were overwhelmed, and we added another one, and we added another one, so what we’re trying to do is be more anticipatory of that as we move forward.”

By contrast, Gattuso said, the automobile parking facility at the existing Comcast tower is underused; only around 60 percent of its 87 parking spaces are occupied on a given day. The new tower will have 58 underground parking spaces, with room for six NBC10 news vans.

If Council approves the bills, the project will only need to go through Civic Design Review before construction can begin.

About the author

Jared Brey, Reporter

Jared Brey is a freelance reporter based in Philadelphia. His work has been featured in Philadelphia magazine, Hidden CityThe Philadelphia InquirerCity & State, and other publications. He covered development, zoning policy, historic preservation, and city government for PlanPhilly from 2011-2016. 

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