Friday, February 17, 2012

Commerce Square towers to undergo $25M rehab

by Natalie Kostelni

"Thomas Properties Group Inc. has kicked off a $25 million, multiphased capital improvement project at its Commerce Square office complex in Center City.

One Commerce Square was constructed in 1987 and Two Commerce Square was built in 1991 as part of a wave of new office towers to rise in the Central Business District and this is the first time since then the development has undergone such a major overhaul. The centerpiece of the work is a courtyard between the two, matching 41-story office buildings on Market Street between 20th and 21st streets. Commarts/Stantec of Boulder, Colo., designed the renovations.

It’s not often that buildings undergo such extensive and expensive renovations. In 2008, $10 million was spent on interior and exterior renovations at Centre Square, which included upgrades to the plaza. Back in 2002, United Plaza underwent an extensive, multimillion-dollar capital project. More recently, 1605 Arch St. had $7.5 million in cosmetic work completed. The upgrades are typically aimed at repositioning buildings as top-tier office structures and making them more attractive to existing and prospective tenants.

The work at Commerce Square is intended to make the property stand out in a competitive office market and seize on trends influencing how office buildings are used today and who uses them: a younger, more female work force. It also seeks to capture the changes that have taken place over time at the far west end of Market Street in Center City.

“There’s a live-work connection here that wasn’t here when the buildings were built 20 years ago,” said Randy Scott, executive vice president at Thomas Properties.

Several multifamily residential properties have cropped up in the last two decades in and around where Commerce Square is located and more are on the way. For example, PMC Property Group is converting 2040 Market St. into apartments and is looking to construct a 14-story residential building on a surface parking lot at 19th and Arch streets, and John Buck Co. is working on a 34-story apartment building at 21st and Chestnut streets.

The courtyard at Commerce Square, which measures over an acre, is undergoing a complete re-do. While some of the work addresses some technical issues, such as waterproofing over a parking structure, the design attempts to create an inviting public space for office tenants and those living nearby. The fountain will be rebuilt, new furniture, umbrellas and landscaping will be put in and a 22-foot by 20-foot “media wall,” or large television screen, will cover a portion of a wall that will have content rotating on it.

Another aspect of the work will focus on blending activity going on in the courtyard with Market Street.

“The themes to this upgrade is to better engage the street with the public space,” Scott said. “As a space it’s fabulous but as a commercial asset we can do a better job drawing people in.”

To that end, two illuminated 42-foot pylons will jut up and create an entry way on Market Street into the courtyard. In addition, a low wall with plants and shrubs will come out to the sidewalk along Market, which will help define the area and give Thomas Realty new space to put the names of tenants in the building. Many companies find such signage appealing but it’s limited now at the building.

While two restaurants now occupy space around the courtyard, the landlord is looking to put a third one in 8,000 square feet of space that is currently vacant.

“We’re trying to create a destination here,” said Morgan Murray, who handles leasing at Thomas Realty Partners, a brokerage affiliate of Thomas Realty.

The main lobbies will also get some attention though their basic structure will remain.

“They are sort of museum-like now,” Scott said.

Dark and uninviting, the lobbies will be brightened up with better lighting and made more welcoming to encourage people to linger. For example, an area where people can hang out with their laptops and a cup of coffee will be installed.

All of the work is expected to be wrapped up by year end."
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