Friday, July 30, 2010

Quarterly results in at Phila.-area REITs

"In Philadelphia-area real estate investment trust news, Liberty Property Trust and Brandywine Realty Trust reported decent second quarters despite the tenuous recovery, and Thomas Properties Group Inc. said it closed on some new financing, part of which gives a boost to the Murano condominium tower in Center City.

Out of the gate, Brandywine (NYSE:BDN) raised its guidance on its funds from operations to a range of $1.30 to $1.34 a diluted share from $1.27 to $1.34 a share. Though it raised expectations, the Radnor company reported a net loss of $7.6 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with a gain of $3.5 million, or 3 cents a share, for the same period a year ago. FFO, a key measure of a REIT’s financial performance, swung to $46.6 million, 34 cents a share compared with $59.2 million, or 56 cents a share. Its portfolio was 86.4 percent occupied.

Liberty ended the quarter with its portfolio 88.7 percent occupied compared with 88.2 percent at the end of the first quarter. Rental rates have stabilized, the company said, but it expects the real estate recovery to be long and slow.

“Our sense is that people should not have felt as good as they did earlier this year and they shouldn't feel as bad as they do now, but we have said over the last several quarters this is going to be a long and slow path up, and that's how it is playing out,” said Bill Hankowsky, CEO of the Malvern company, adding: “For real estate markets, this recent renewed caution has manifested itself with a decline in prospect activity in June from where it was in April and May, as well as another dose of delayed decision making.”

Liberty’s (NYSE:LRY) income came in at 29 cents a share compared with 35 cents a share in the year-earlier period. FFO stood at 67 cents a share compared with 72 cents during the same period a year ago.

Thomas Properties, which is based in Los Angeles but owns One and Two Commerce Square as well as Four Falls and other buildings in the region, said it shored up some financing issues and continues to work through other loan issues. Locally, Thomas (NYSE:TPGI) extended the Murano condominium construction loan with Corus Construction Venture for a year to the end of next July. The Murano is a 42-story, 302-unit condo complex at 2101 Market St. that got caught in the downturn of the housing boom and the company turned last summer to auctioning units to drum up sales."

Robin Hood Ventures, other companies move in at University City Science Center

"The University City Science Center said Thursday that Robin Hood Ventures, a Wayne, Pa.-based group of the individual investors known as angels, has opened an office in its Port business incubator.

Robin Hood focuses on investing in early-stage companies located in the mid-Atlantic region and has invested $11 million in 30 companies since it was founded in 1999.

The Science Center, a nonprofit that runs a research park in Philadelphia’s University City section, also said it has added three other tenants:

• Biologistics Consulting, a consultant to life-sciences companies that has an office in Liege, Belgium, and has joined the Science Center’s Global Soft Landing program, which helps foreign life-sciences and information-technology companies get established in the area;

• DMX, a provider of bioreagents, which are biological substances that cause reactions in systems to which they are added;

• Nuvon Inc., a San Francisco company whose hardware and software enables access to point-of-care medical devices and patient-care data regardless of where they are located."

IMS rents empty Wyeth site; suburban landlord may build in 2011

"IMS Health Inc., a Connecticut-based drug data management company, is consolidating 1,000 workers, from buildings it owns at 660 Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, and other space in Blue Bell, to smaller quarters in the Highview I and II buildings at the Providence Corporate Center, Collegeville.

The Highview buildings were left vacant when drugmaker Pfizer Inc. bought Wyeth last year and cancelled plans to expand Wyeth's neighboring research and development site. IMS's lease allows Pfizer to "buy out of" Wyeth Pharmaceutical Co. leases that expired Dec. 31 and in 2013, Stephen Spaeder, senior vice president at landlord and builder BPG Properties Ltd., which built and owns Highview, told me.

Spaeder said IMS is paying modest initial rents in the mid-$20s per square foot per year. IMS's old buildings totalled 212,000 square feet; the Highview complex totals 150,000. IMS will likely sell the old buildings, spokesman Gary Gatyas told me. The move allows IMS to put more of its workers in one "campus-like" location at "highly competitive" terms, Bill Nelligan, president of IMS Health's Americas division, said in a statement.

"The market has been thin," Spaeder said, "but this came together quickly because there's so few large blocks of existing space." Spaeder said a few other suburban tenants - the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Broadview Networks, Quest Diagnostics, and drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline - are all close to settling new leases of 100,000 square feet or more in the King of Prussia area "in the $20s and low $30s (per square foot) range."

If tenants that size keep signing new leases, Spaeder added, "in early 2011 a couple of us are going to be able to start new buildings."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CoverSports USA doubles space

"CoverSports USA, a subsidiary of Humphrys Textile Products, has doubled its space and relocated within Philadelphia, which bucks a trend for manufacturers in the city. The company moved into a 163,000-square-foot building at 5000 Paschall Ave. It had been operating from 82,000 square feet at 5744 Woodland Ave., also in the Kingsessing section of Philadelphia. The new building will house 67 employees and be used for manufacturing and distribution operations.

CoverSports was established in 1874 and both Humphrys and CoverSports have supplied truck covers, tarpaulins, field covers, protective floor coverings, and fence covers/windscreens to schools, universities, military and government agencies, recreation centers, parks and other facilities.

Among the more prominent institutions and organizations which have been long-standing customers are the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Phillies and the Washington Redskins, as well as numerous federal, state and city governments throughout the United States."

Wistar Institute planning major addition

"The Wistar Institute, an independent nonprofit biomedical research center, is in the early stages of planning for a major new addition at its University City facility. Plans call for knocking down less than a third of its existing 103,750-square-foot cancer research building and vivarium at 36th and Spruce streets and constructing a new seven-story research tower. The current research building was constructed in 1975, the last time Wistar undertook any significant capital project. While five floors of the new structure would be dedicated to research labs, space will be carved out for auditorium, meeting and public common areas.

Staci Vernick Goldberg, spokeswoman at Wistar, declined to say exactly how many square feet the new structure would be or how much it would cost since the design and scope of the project is still being tweaked and approvals still being sought. Ballinger is the architect.

“This is a major renovation and expansion for us,” she said, adding it will not only increase space for research but help when recruiting new faculty. The institute also includes a 78,125-square-foot Victorian built in 1894. That building will remain untouched by the new project. Wistar is aiming to be under construction by early next year. While it is on the University of Pennsylvania campus, it is independent of the school and not affiliated with it."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oberthur Technologies Leases 5,069 SF of Warehouse Space at 247 Welsh Pool Rd. in Exton, Uwchlan Township, PA

"The 5,069 SF of warehouse space is located at 247 Welsh Pool Road in Exton. 247 Welsh Pool Road is located within the The Pickering Creek Business Park in Exton. This one story flex building contains a total of 25,000 SF and is divided into five suites."

According to their website, "Oberthur Technologies is a world leader in the field of secure technologies. They provide security and identification based on smart card technology. They are one of the world's leading providers of security printing and specialization in the production of banknotes, checks and other fiduciary documents and an international player for the manufacture and personalization of secure identity documents such as passports, identity card, driving license or health care card." Oberthur Technologies is expected to move into their new suite late spring."

Teknikos Leases 5,500 SF in King of Prussia

"The owners of 650 Clark Avenue in King of Prussia, lease approximately 5,500 SF of flex space to Teknikos, Inc.

According to the website, "Teknikos, Inc. is a global leader in the design and development of cross platform, multi-touch applications as well as program metric tools for companies looking for fresh ideas to generate high-performance returns". They are a full service program management company with in-house expertise in software development, hardware deployment and User Interface design. The company moved into their new facility June 1st.

Situated in the King of Prussia Business Center, this attractive one-story flex building contains a total of 50,000 SF of space and includes private entrances, lots of exterior glass, conference rooms, open work areas, kitchens, lavatories, individually metered electric service and extensive parking."

Three Leasing Transactions Completed in Bala Cynwyd

"Suite 605 Associates renewed their 2,878 SF office space on the sixth floor at One Belmont Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, PA.

Dr. Timothy Woods renewed his 2,345 SF space for 5 years at Two Bala Plaza in Bala Cynwyd.

Advanced Education signed a new deal for 859 SF at One Bala Plaza in Bala Cynwyd. Plans to occupy the space are set for mid-July 2010."

Styron to make HQ in Phila.-area

"Styron, a plastics business that Dow Chemical Co. spun off and sold, will locate its headquarters in the Philadelphia area, bringing with it 40 to 50 high-paying executive jobs. It’s now searching for a site.

Bain Capital Partners bought the business from Dow for $1.63 billion in a transaction that closed in June. Styron looked at several different states, said Catherine Maxey, a spokeswoman with the company. While Pennsylvania and Michigan were considered, she declined to list the other areas that were evaluated in its search. It did receive incentives from Pennsylvania to locate here but Maxey didn’t divulge them. A call to Pennsylvania’s Community and Economic Development wasn’t immediately returned.

One of the keys to its selecting the Philadelphia area was its international airport.

“Our executives travel a lot,” she said. “The ability to get from one place to another with ease is very important.”

The company also wanted a big enough city to attract and retain top talent for its executive-level positions. Quality of life and a region where it could have a variety of options to review were also important, Maxey said.

The company is looking at downtown Philadelphia as well as its suburbs, said Jeff Cutler, a broker with CB Richard Ellis in Michigan who is helping Styron with its search. The company will be seeking roughly 25,000 square feet.

“We are just at the beginning of putting options in front of them,” Cutler said.

One option will be the Dow (formerly Rohm and Haas) building overlooking Independence Mall, Maxey said, declining to name other buildings it might look at. The office markets in Center City and western suburbs, where vacancies are rising, will provide plenty of options in the 25,000-square-foot range for the company to consider.

The company hopes to make a decision on where it will lease office space for its headquarters in the next month or two and have the operation up and running by January, Maxey said. Most of the jobs will be new positions though a few Styron employees will be relocating from other offices.

Styron will maintain its North American operations center in Midland, Mich., where it has research and other operations. It will also continue to maintain other regional operations it has in Hong Kong, Brazil and Switzerland.

The company makes a range of plastic, latex and rubber products for industries including automotive, building and construction, consumer electronics and medical, among others. It had $3.7 billion in sales last year."

Delaware Law Firm Inks 90,000-SF Renewal

"Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP signed a long-term lease extension of 90,000 square feet at the Hercules Plaza at 1313 N Market St. in Wilmington, DE. Delaware's oldest law firm will remain in the space through 2028.

The Hercules Plaza is a 12-story, 520,000-square-foot office building constructed in 1982. It is in Wilmington's CBD."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

First Eastern Development Pays $3.9M for Office Bldg.

"First Eastern Development Co. purchased the office building at 1585 Paoli Pike in West Chester, PA, from Fuchs Development Co. for $3.85 million, or about $115 per square foot.

The two-story, 33,279-square-foot building was constructed in 1988. First Eastern has already leased the entire facility to Pennsylvania Charter School. The school will take occupancy in September."

College Arms Apartments Sells for $4.4 Million

"The Walters Group sold the College Arms apartment complex in West Chester, PA, to West Chester University of Pennsylvania for $4.39 million, or about $107,000 per unit.

The 41-unit, 31,618-square-foot property at 721-731 S High St. was built in 1973. The property holds a historical vacancy rate of 5%.

West Chester University purchased the property as an investment and for the continuation of student housing.

The property was not on the market at the time of sale."

Bucks County PNC Branch Sells For $4.3M

"The newly built PNC Bank Branch at 91 Oxford Valley Road in Lower Makefield, PA, sold for $4.3 million, or $1,075 per square foot, in a sale between private investors.

The 4,000-square-foot retail building is in the Octagon Center and sits on more than three acres of land. It was completed in April and is fully occupied by the bank on a long-term lease."

Apartment Bldg. Nets $3.1M in Philadelphia

"An individual investor sold the multifamily building at 65 North 34th St. in Philadelphia to Academic Properties Inc. for $3.13 million, or about $284,000 per unit.

The 9,210-square-foot apartment community consists of eleven two-bedroom units. It was built in 1930 in the West Philadelphia submarket and was not on the market at the time of the sale."

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tecniplast moving from Lionville to West Chester

"Tecniplast USA bought a building in the Goshen Corporate Park where it will relocate and expand its operations. The company is expected to hire 25 to 30 new employees.

Tecniplast bought a 77,000-square-foot flex structure on eight acres at 1345 Enterprise Drive in West Chester, as well as an adjacent four-acre site, for $7.025 million. The seller was an entity once affiliated with Electronics Boutique. Tecniplast makes cages, racks and washing equipment for laboratory animals and is currently in 10,000 square feet of office space in Lionville. The company will occupy most of the building. Ryan Homes leases about 8,000 square feet.

Tecniplast plans to demolish about 20,000 square feet of the office space in the Enterprise Drive building to convert it to warehouse and manufacturing space. It will house its administrative offices in the space as well as manufacture products and conduct final assembly in the building.

The building had been on the market for about six months. At first the owner was trying to lease up the mostly vacant building but then decided to switch gears and sell. Tecniplast is scheduled to move in August."

Pension fund takes control of Philadelphia's 10 Rittenhouse Square condo building

"A pension fund representing thousands of workers, mostly in the construction trades, has taken control of the luxury 10 Rittenhouse Square project in a dispute over the fund's $57 million stake in the building.

The 33-story Robert A.M. Stern signature building at 130 S. 18th St. - with 135 condominiums priced from $600,000 to $15 million, plus retail and restaurant space - opened in November, more than two years behind schedule, because of litigation over preservation and zoning issues.

That delay, coupled with a deepening recession, resulted in sales below what are considered necessary to begin repaying more than $300 million in debt owed to the project's senior lender, Istar Financial Group of New York, and the pension fund, the Delaware Valley Real Estate Investment Fund, which manages the retirement nest eggs of 47,200 workers in the region.

According to data from city Board of Revision of Taxes and other sources, only about three dozen units have sold or gone to settlement.

Because of those low numbers and concerns about Istar's intentions for the building, the pension fund filed suit Friday in Common Pleas Court, seeking "to save Center City's premier residential condominium development from the depredations of a troubled hedge fund and rogue lender."

In 2006, the pension fund provided 10 Rittenhouse's developer, ARCWheeler L.L.C., with two loans to launch the project - the first for $25 million, the second for $5 million. With late charges and accrued interest, the pension fund is now owed $57 million.

In 2007, Istar lent $216.5 million to ARCWheeler to build the high-rise.

With its pair of loans, the pension fund provided "mezzanine" financing, similar to a second mortgage in residential real estate, with the debt secured by the borrowers' equity in the property.

In such arrangements, the senior lender, in this case Istar, typically is paid first, with the pension fund paid next. But a provision in the mezzanine agreement allows the pension fund to assume ownership if it believes its investment is in jeopardy.

With the exercise of that provision, Rittenhouse Pension Investors L.L.C., a wholly owned subsidiary of the pension fund, has assumed management of the luxury high-rise, said managing partner John M. Decker, of Dequity Investment Group.

In its lawsuit, the pension fund accuses Istar of "hatching a scheme" to defraud it and 10 Rittenhouse's developer by letting the project go into default and assuming control, with the result that "only Istar would obtain repayment."

At the same time the developer was behind in its loan payments to Istar, the lawsuit says - Istar describes ARCWheeler as "out of balance" to the tune of $35 million - Istar continued to allow the developer to draw money from the loan for construction and did not specifically suggest it was in default.

According to the suit, ARCWheeler offered to raise the $35 million by giving up its rights to the building's commercial properties and using condo deposits it had received. Instead of accepting the cash payment, Istar "insisted" ARCWheeler take out another $35 million loan, for a total of about $251 million.

The pension fund stepped in, according to the suit, to keep the union members it represents from being "completely wiped out."

When contacted Monday, Istar senior vice president Andrew Bachman said: "We are aware of the action being filed. However, we have not yet been served, nor have we reviewed the filing, so we do not have any comment."

Decker said the suit was delivered to Istar by Federal Express on Friday.

Until a "seamless transition of management" is made, Decker said, ARCWheeler will stay on at 10 Rittenhouse. He sought to reassure current owners and buyers that their interests were protected. "We are satisfied with every aspect of what ARCWheeler has done," he said.

Robert Ambrosi, a joint-venture partner in ARCWheeler with the late Harold B. Wheeler, had no comment Monday about the turn of events, except to say: "My goal is to make sure that 10 Rittenhouse is the best residential building and community of people in Philadelphia."

Ambrosi, chairman and chief executive of ARC Properties of Parsippany, N.J., and Wheeler, who died Jan. 25 of a heart attack at 54, began planning 10 Rittenhouse in the mid-1990s.

Construction, expected to take 27 months, was to have begun in spring 2005, just as the Center City condo boom was revving up. Instead, work did not begin until 2007, at the conclusion of two years of legal wrangling over a variety of issues, including preservation of buildings on the site.

Meanwhile, the region's real estate market peaked in the third quarter of 2007, followed by the start of the recession. Opening more than two years late put 10 Rittenhouse at a distinct disadvantage, especially since its price range requires well-heeled buyers.

"Under $500,000 is selling briskly, but $1 million-plus is very slow, unless discounts of 20 percent to 40 percent are being offered," said Center City Realtor and developer Allan Domb. "If you have to sell a house in the suburbs first or if you need a jumbo loan to buy, it's a big problem."

In November, when the building opened, Ambrosi said there were agreements on 50 percent of the units at 10 Rittenhouse.

Although sales have been slower than anticipated, Decker said the last 60 days have seen increased traffic and contracts, and "a better price per square foot," implying a reduced level of discounting.

Many buyers who signed contracts at the beginning either renegotiated their agreements or accepted a portion of their deposits back, Decker said. "Only a handful of lawsuits" by disappointed buyers remain."

Toll forms subsidiary to buy distressed real estate

"Toll Brothers Inc. is looking to seize on distressed real estate and has formed Gibraltar Capital and Asset Management as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Gibraltar is looking to use the relationships and connections Toll has established as well as its access to capital to make acquisitions. The new entity will look to buy troubled real estate, including portfolios, loans and land, as well as help banks and developers in the workout of such battered real estate. Gibraltar will also make investments that make sense even if they fall outside of Toll’s “core home-building operations.”

Two Toll insiders, Roger A. Brush and Michael L. LaPat, will head up Gibraltar. Brush has a legal background and experience in distressed acquisitions and home-building operations. LaPat has been a senior manager in Toll’s finance group and involved in mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, valuations and the structuring and financing of complex ventures. This is the first publicly announced change under Toll’s new CEO, Doug Yearley Jr., who assumed the top role June 16. Toll (NYSE:TOL) is based in Horsham."

Chester County seeks to sell 3 historic buildings

"Chester County is looking to unload three historic properties totaling 153,000 square feet right in the heart of West Chester. The properties, 2 N. High St., 32 and 34 W. Gay St. and 17 N. Church St., sit in the heart of the county seat, which is regularly teeming with pedestrian activity. The county had been using the properties to house administrative and other government functions but is relocating those employees and offices to a six-story, 123,000-square-foot office structure at 313 W. Market St. in West Chester that was constructed by Eli Kahn and some partners. The county picked Kahn’s Market Street property and signed a 20-year lease for a bevy of county-related offices.

In light of that, the county no longer needs the three properties, which sit on what is referred to as the “First Block” in West Chester and is the prime block in the borough. The county’s historic courthouse that dates back to 1848 is also on the First Block, which is bounded by Market, Church, Gay and High streets.

The biggest building is 2 N. High, which is five stories and totals about 80,000 square feet. The buildings will be sold as a portfolio and not separately, said Jim Dugan, a broker with Grubb & Ellis who is marketing the properties with colleagues Charles Davidson and Elaine Battaglia.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for someone,” Dugan said.

The buildings are a great rehab play for someone and an opportunity to create some new space for some retailers who haven’t been able to get a spot downtown, Dugan said, noting that a buyer could consider residential or even institutional but the properties most likely work for office or retail plays.

Offers are accepted until the end of September."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Academy offers promising plans for a plaza

"Just when it seemed that the cliff wall of the fast-rising Convention Center addition would define North Broad Street's new image, along comes the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with a plan for a cozy, yet ambitious, plaza that promises to serve as the escape route from that overbearing government enterprise.

Consider the two projects the Beauty and the Beast of North Broad Street.

The idea for the plaza, located on Cherry Street, across from the Convention Center's new front door, has been percolating for years. But the scope of the undertaking became clear only last week, when the academy revealed the project's final form.

Not surprisingly, the inclusion of a 53-foot-tall pop-art paintbrush by Claes Oldenburg grabbed the attention. PAFA is clearly hoping that this tilted artwork will become a Philadelphia icon like the sculptor's Market Street Clothespin. True love rarely strikes twice, however, and the oversize paintbrush seems too literal a choice for an art school famous for its devotion to the antique craft of putting paint on canvas.

Instead, it's the plaza, designed by the landscape architects at Philadelphia-based Olin, that offers the real seductive possibilities. While there is no shortage of dreary plazas nearby - negative connotations are virtually built into the word - Olin reconfigures the formula to create an exciting new urban space.

The original impetus for the plaza was to unite the academy's two halves: its celebrated Furness & Hewitt building and the adjacent annex recently carved out of a 1920s automobile showroom. PAFA will pedestrianize Cherry Street from Broad to Carlisle Street, and outfit the 40-foot-wide passage with benches, restaurant tables, and sculpture in time for the Convention Center's opening next spring.

At its most basic, the plaza will open up a crack of ventilation on a stuffy stretch of Broad Street, marred by Hahnemann University Hospital's disgraceful off-limits park. PAFA's plaza provides a congenial spot where students, conventioneers, and Philadelphians all can mingle.

Over time, expectations for the plaza have grown. Its job now is to tie together two strands of Philadelphia's economic strategy: hospitality and culture. The passage - which is being named Lenfest Plaza for its main donors, the philanthropists H.F. "Gerry" and Marguerite Lenfest - is envisioned as the start of a city arts walk.

Lenfest Plaza will serve as a gateway, luring meeting-goers west on Cherry Street, past the historic Friends Center (and, sadly, the loading docks of the planned new Family Court) to 17th Street, where the cultural riches of the Parkway await.

It's hard to imagine conventioneers making the trek after a long day. But the architects, led by Olin's David Rubin, believe they can persuade them to cross Broad Street and begin their slow immersion into the city.

To that end, the space has been organized as a series of pleasurable urban experiences. PAFA will open a restaurant in its Hamilton Building that spills out onto the plaza. For those who are just passing through, a series of curving benches wiggle through the narrow space like the broken rattlesnake in Ben Franklin's flag. They help diminish its bowling-alley feel.

The longest bench snuggles up against the academy's north wall, a tour de force of color and pattern that ranks among Philadelphia's greatest facades. On the west, the seating loops around an oval platform - suggesting an artist's palette - that will be used as a base for changing sculpture displays.

Rubin designed the benches with a continuous electronic screen at their base featuring colorful, shifting images by Jenny Holzer, who often incorporates projections in her work. Although PAFA's $3 million budget includes no funding for the piece, Rubin has vowed to raise it himself. Its presence would upgrade the project from merely good to near thrilling.

Rubin's other innovation also deserves full support from PAFA and city officials. He would extend the sidewalk at the plaza entrance into the parking lane, creating a "bump-out." His plan shows a matching bump in front of the Convention Center entrance. The two extensions would effectively shorten the Broad Street crossing and make it easier for people to reach the plaza.

Because Broad Street is a state road, the bump-out needs approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which is often suspicious of such innovations. But if the city is going to encourage conventioneers to cross at Cherry Street, it seems insane not to make the passage as safe as possible.

To lure visitors into the plaza, Rubin rolls out a carpet of concrete pavers beyond the building plane. Although they are dominated by gray shades, red and black tiles will punctuate the surface in a reference to PAFA's north wall. The danger is that too much color could tip the composition into dissonance, given that facade's already extreme vibrancy.

Like the carpet, Oldenburg's paintbrush is intended as an overt come-on to visitors. Canted at a seemingly dangerous angle, the brush will have bristles extending over the public sidewalk, angling up as if they were painting the sky. They will be lighted at night like - you guessed it! - a torch. Since this is Philadelphia, we know a torch equals liberty. You get a defense of painting and American ideals in one easy-to-read sculpture. Meanwhile, the academy gets a literal and figurative sign that marks its presence on Broad Street.

It's a bit too obvious. While the Clothespin and the Split Button at the University of Pennsylvania also exploit local associations, their forms remain a step removed from literal calling cards. Still, the fiberglass paintbrush's gravity-defying angle could be its strong suit, especially if Oldenburg succeeds in making the connection to the ground appears effortless.

But his decision to complete the composition with a blob of dropped paint is not encouraging. On paper, the blob, which towers above most people, strongly resembles a pile of excrement. Is the scatological image meant to be a comment on art today? On the Convention Center design?

When the Clothespin was installed in 1976, giant pop-art sculpture still had the power to puzzle, and even outrage, by elevating everyday objects to monumental scale. But it's hard to be subversive when your assignment is to create an instant love object.

Architecture challenges us in different ways. Simply by offering conventioneers a gateway to an authentic urban experience, Lenfest Plaza demonstrates the power of good landscape design to redeem our most boosterish impulses."

Health Check Physical Therapy Leases 3,122 SF in Downingtown, PA

"The owners negotiated a lease agreement for 3,122 SF of flex space located at 280 Boot Road in Downingtown, PA.

John Newton, President of First Eastern Development Company, LLC, arranged the multi-year lease agreement with the tenant, Health Check Physical Therapy.

According to their website, "Health Check Physical Therapy is a fully equipped, one on one, physical therapy facility which extends treatment to high school athletes and worker's comp cases to the geriatric population and post-surgical cases. They have been practicing in the Chester County area for over 20 years and take pride in providing an upbeat, positive, and highly rewarding rehabilitation experience. In addition, they offer a Total Health for Life program which includes guided exercise, weight-loss counseling, orthopedic evaluations, vitamin supplements and a unique fat burning system."

Their new suite is located at 280 Boot Road. 280-288 Boot Road is a 48,817 SF building containing three two-story flex suites ranging in size from 12,869 SF to 18,865 SF. Each suite has its own outside entrance, first and second floor office space, large warehouse facility and two tailgates. Drive-in loading is also available. Other features include natural gas heat, central air conditioning and parking for 64 cars.

Health Check Physical Therapy will join Jimmy Duffy & Sons, Inc., Delicious Bite, LLC and GSA as long term tenants in the building. This building is centrally located within 1.5 miles from the Route 30 Bypass with easy access to Routes 100, 322 and 202."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Griesing moves to bigger offices

"Griesing Law, a woman-owned firm formed earlier this year, has grown and relocated.

The firm leased 4,012 square feet at 1717 Arch St. in Philadelphia, having jumped from 895 square feet in space it subleased from Aikin Gump at Two Commerce Square at 2001 Market St. ...

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held for $3.8 million in streetscape improvements along a commercial corridor at North 5th Street between Lehigh Avenue and Indiana Street in Philadelphia. The project aims to establish an identity for the area that is referred to as “El Centro de Oro” and is the “Main Street” of Philadelphia’s growing Latino community. Funding for the project came from the Philadelphia Cultural Corridor Bond Program, Pennsylvania and PennDOT. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2010. Improvements include improved lighting and landscaping, repaved gold-colored sidewalks and the installation of metal palm trees among other additions ... Health Check Physical Therapy leased 3,122 square feet of flex space at 280 Boot Road in Downingtown. Lieberman Earley & Co. and First Eastern Development Co. arranged the lease ...

Meridian Capital Group lined up a 10-year, $6.5 million mortgage at 4.91 percent for the Center Point West apartments through a local, undisclosed savings bank. The two-story complex has 120 garden-style apartments at 2290 Galloway Road in Bensalem ... Cushman & Wakefield formed a capital markets group/corporate disposition practice. Each office will not have a disposition group but its new nationally led team."

American Loft Building Sells in Philadelphia

"Brown Street at American LLC purchased the American Loft building at 717 N American Street in Philadelphia from Abington Bank for $10.7 million, or $267,500 per unit. This was an REO sale.

The 45,825-square-foot, 40-unit luxury condominium high-rise was once intended to be marketed as for-sale condo units. The new owner will be operating the property as an apartment building.

The American Loft building was vacant at the time of sale."

Philly Walgreens Sells for $6.6M

"The Walgreens at 7201 Castor Ave. in Philadelphia sold for $6.64 million, or $457 per square foot, in a sale between private investors.

This was a sale of a 25-year absolute bond net lease with Walgreens. The 14,525-square foot retail building completed construction in May and the tenant has taken occupancy at the site."

H&S Bakery Sells Philadelphia Facility

"Highland Development Group purchased the industrial building at 2550 Grant Ave. in Philadelphia, from H&S Bakery for $5.25 million, or about $50 per square foot.

The 100,000-square-foot food processing facility sits on seven acres of land, and contains 5,000 square feet of office space."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Penn Med opens Tredyffrin outpatient center

"Penn Medicine opened a large outpatient facility today in Tredyffrin Township that will make it easier for primary-care doctors and specialists to coordinate care.
The $30 million, 90,000-square-foot building near Routes 202 and 252 - Penn Medicine at Valley Forge - will eventually house 60 doctors as well as radiology and laboratory services.

Ronald Barg, executive director of Clinical Care Associates, which runs the University of Pennsylvania Health System's outpatient network, said the new building features an open office design that should foster collaboration among doctors. The doctors will share support staff, who will be able to schedule and coordinate appointments. All doctors will have access to the same electronic medical record.

In more traditional buildings, doctors don't talk as much as they should and patients often don't follow up quickly on referrals to specialists, Barg said. "The model we have here is much more unified with the patient in the middle," he said.

All of the doctors will be Penn employees.

Half the cost of the center came from the Henry P. Erdman Trust, which was created almost a century ago to develop educational programs in the Valley Forge region. Medical students will rotate through the new center, as they do at other Penn outpatient facilities, but they will be working in a building that was designed with education in mind, Barg said. It will have a student lounge, video conferencing so students can participate in programs downtown, and video equipment that will allow students and faculty to record and discuss interactions with some patients.

Penn Medicine consists of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Penn health system."

Phila.-area apartment market bouncing back

"The apartment market throughout the region appears to have stabilized and is showing signs of strength, according to a midyear report.

Vacancy rates declined, rents rose and concessions have fallen at apartment complexes throughout Center City, the western suburbs and South Jersey. This means the local economy continues to gain strength as people gain employment and no longer need to temporarily live with family or double up roommates to make ends meet, and landlords are beginning to gain the upper hand again, drawing to a close a market in which renters got free rent and other lucrative terms.

While the national apartment vacancy rate came in at 7.8 percent, the overall vacancy rate for the Philadelphia metropolitan area stood at 4.2 percent, down from 6.9 percent at the midpoint last year, according to Delta Associates, an Arlington, Va., real estate research firm. Rents across the metro area rose 3.8 percent compared with the second quarter last year.

The best showing was in Center City, where the vacancy rate dropped to 1.9 percent from 7.6 percent at the same point last year, and rents zoomed upward by 7.4 percent to an average of $1,918, or $1.88 a square foot. South Jersey also made gains, outpacing Philadelphia’s western suburbs. South Jersey’s vacancy rate more than halved to 4 percent from 8.4 percent and Camden County had the lowest vacancy rate at 3.4 percent. Monthly rents in South Jersey were also zooming upward by 4.6 percent to an average of $1,316. In the western suburbs, vacancy slid down slightly to 5.4 percent from 6.1 percent."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Louisville Ladder Leases 50,000 SF in Bensalem

"Louisville Ladder leased 50,000 square feet at the Expressway 95 Industrial Center at 855 Dunks Ferry Road in Bensalem, PA.

Located in the Bucks Industrial submarket, the two-story, 78,058-square-foot facility was constructed in 1976.

Louisville Ladder is one of the largest ladder manufactures in the world and was founded in 1946."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Two new Drexel buildings bringing a livelier look to West Philly streets

"West Philadelphia's big institutions worked for decades to cleanse their streets of any trace of indigenous urban life - and they very nearly succeeded. Along Market, Chestnut, and Walnut Streets, block after block fell to a generic, corporate style of architecture that favored block-long facades, daunting setbacks, and inscrutable, windowless walls. It was a scary place, indeed.

Having belatedly recognized the error of their ways, those institutions - Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University City Science Center - have been trying to repair the damage, punching in a new door here, installing a corner cafe there. The sanitized blocks, from the Schuylkill west to 38th Street, may never regain their original vibrancy, but at least they now bear some resemblance to their bustling Center City cousins.

Re-urbanization has not come easy, especially for Drexel. Although its recent academic buildings dutifully follow Philadelphia's traditional sidewalk line on Market Street, the architecture (all of it by big-name firms) is as introverted and lackluster as anything from the bad old '70s.

But with the completion this spring of a glassy recreation center at Market and 33d Streets, and a new science building rising on Chestnut Street, Drexel may finally be getting the hang of the urban thing. While the design isn't as polished as one might like, it achieves something that has eluded most of Drexel's recent architecture: It feels alive.

What the two buildings have in common, and what distinguishes them from the architecture of Drexel's unfortunate orange-brick period, is that they fill in critical street frontage that had been left fallow in a misguided effort to provide open space. Just as important, both reserve high-visibility spaces for public eateries, qualifying the projects as "mixed use."

The $44.6 million recreation center, designed by Boston's Sasaki Associates with local help from EwingCole, is the most dramatic example so far of Drexel's in-filling. The facility is an addition to Drexel's vaulted, orange-brick gym, which was completed in 1971 and turned a blank face to Market Street. Though the gym extension is modest in size, Drexel's late president, Constantine Papadakis, wanted it to signal the university's growing academic and architectural ambitions.

Because the structure was slipped onto a 60-foot-wide strip of land that Drexel had long ago deeded to the city, the university had to buy back the parcel and pay Verizon to relocate a fiber-optic trunk line. The costs were worth it. The three-story addition not only equips the gym with a real front door, it gives Drexel's campus the center of gravity it always lacked.

Sasaki's recreation center acts as a giant fishbowl. Wrapped in glass on three sides, it offers full-on views of 300 exercise machines (and their buff users), as well as a dramatic, 30-foot-high rock-climbing wall at the 34th Street end. The interiors are so bright and airy that procrastinators now have one less excuse not to work out.

Since the Market Street facade receives intense southern light, Sasaki pleated the facade on the upper two stories like a skirt, angling the glass sections to face away from the direct sun. Some pleats fold east, others west. All the glass panels deflect heat and glare, and some have additional blue filters that jazzes up the rhythm.

Too bad the designers didn't carry the patterning down to street level. For all the project's virtues, this is another relentless, block-long facade.

The ground floor is faced in a one-note monotony of flat, vertical glass panels that drone on for 400 long feet. Yes, there are some visual breaks - for the restaurant's strikingly boring sign and for doors. An enticing restaurant patio holds the 34th Street corner. But you still feel defeated and exhausted by the time you've walked the length of the facade.

It's not clear why the architects left the ground floor so unmodulated. Sasaki's Gerard A. Gutierrez said he wanted people to be able to see easily into the restaurant.

But it's not merely the ground floor's facade that feels clunky and under-designed. So does the lobby. Once you get past the concierge desk at the eastern end, all the life bleeds out of the long, narrow space. Its only purpose is to provide a connection to Drexel's old gym, with its swimming pool and competition-size basketball court. This may be a design that leans too heavily on its users to energize the architecture.

It's hard to activate a block-long building anywhere, but especially in Philadelphia. The city owes its urban vibrancy to the eclectic mix of tenants, shop fronts, and architectural styles jammed onto every block. Philadelphia's zoning law frequently limits building frontages to 60 feet to preserve the variety, but the city has increasingly bowed to the modern demand for wider buildings with big floor plates.

When you allow a concentration of block-size buildings, you wind up with an architectural Sahara like the Science Center. But that dull academic corridor feels almost homey in comparison with the new cityscapes around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., a vast expanse of one-trick, one-use buildings.

So it's nice to see that Drexel's other new in-fill project, the Constantine Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building at 33d and Chestnut Streets, by Diamond + Schmidt, will have a modest footprint when it is finished next year.

The five-story classroom and research building is just big enough to hold down that key intersection, where Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania bump into each other, and to provide space for a corner cafe. It promises to be the kind of architecture where the real lessons about city-building can be taught."

Phila. office vacancy rate nearing 15%

"The vacancy rate of Philadelphia’s downtown office market nudged up during the second quarter, hitting 14.8 percent. The total amount of vacant space on the market at midyear is 3.68 million square feet, or the equivalent of three Liberty Place skyscrapers.

The data spotlight a trend in which tenants continue to have the upper hand when it comes to making office lease deals in the Central Business District. That trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

“We’re stabilizing but we haven’t hit bottom,” the biggest “fear” is that a company could “cut-and-run” and really drag the market down further.

In other market indicators, the absorption rate also stayed in negative territory and rose year-to-date to 291,776 square feet. Projections peg the absorption rate hitting negative 500,000 square feet by year end, which at this point, is on track — barring any unforeseen tenant defections that could give it an even bigger boost.

One issue yet to get resolved, but which could potentially have a significant effect on the market, is what Verizon will do with roughly 400,000 square feet it currently leases at Bell Atlantic Tower but is scheduled to expire August 2012.

One tenant that affected the market during the second quarter and caught real estate observers off guard is Arkema Inc., which has decided to sublet roughly 131,000 square feet of its space at 2000 Market St. The company will relocate to space it owns in King of Prussia. “Down cycles are fraught with anomalies and this was the anomaly in the second quarter.”

By putting the Arkema space up for sublease, the total amount of sublease space available for rent swelled to 1.15 million square feet compared with an annual historical average of 860,000 square feet. Three tenants — Arkema, Sunoco Inc. with 220,000 square feet at Mellon Bank Center, and Unisys with 90,000 square feet at One Liberty Place — account for the bulk of the sublease space. The remainder is fractured in smaller pockets throughout the central business district. Tenant activity is strengthening though deals are taking longer to consummate."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Skippack Flex Trades for $1.9M

"The Clemens Family Corp. purchased 4450 Township Line Road in Skippack, PA, for $1.94 million, or $86 per square foot.

The 22,500-square-foot flex building is fully leased by Mar Cor Purification. An individual owner sold the property.

This property was not on the market at the time of sale."