Comcast Corp. announced Wednesday that it’s building a new, iconic skyscraper that will redefine Philly’s skyline, create thousands of jobs and shift the city’s image from a Rocky, blue-collar town to a city of innovation that rivals the Silicon Valley.
“It will be a melting pot of talent and people who want to change the world in the businesses that we are in,” said CEO Brian Roberts.
Comcast is partnering with Malvern-based Liberty Property Trust to erect the 59-story Comcast Innovation and Technology Center at 1800 Arch St.
The $1.2 billion development will be home to up to 4,000 employees dedicated to developing new apps, software and business services for the Philadelphia-based company.
“We laid out a vision for what our technology could become,” Roberts said. “Where you could get whatever you want on whatever device whenever you wanted.”
Inside the 1,121-feet-tall tower, a slew of “technology geniuses” will be working together in a collaborative environment to ensure Comcast and Philadelphia steadily advance in the 21st century.
Set to break ground in summer 2014, Roberts envisioned “an urban vertical loft.”
Five world-renowned architects competed and Lord Norman Foster, who designed the 1,214-feet long London Millennium Footbridge, prevailed.
Roberts says, the 1.5 million-square-foot mixed-use property will aim for LEED Platinum certification - an ambitious undertaking for such a large building.
Once construction is complete, the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center will be the tallest structure in Philadelphia, surpassing the company’s current headquarters by 150 feet, and among the top 10 tallest buildings in the country.
The top 13 floors will be the new home of the Four Seasons, which is relocating from Logan Square.
Guests staying at one of the more than 200 luxury rooms will check in on the top floor, where the hotel’s restaurant will be located.
Featuring a 360-degree view of the city, the eatery will be open to the public, who can also visit the shops filling 2,682-square-feet of retail space. The stores will line an underground concourse, an extension of the current link between Suburban Station and the Comcast Center that will include the Innovation and Technology Center when construction is complete.
The NBC10 studios, after 62 years on City Line Avenue in Bala Cynwyd, will relocate to Arch Street. Its existing headquarters was the first building in the United States constructed for television production. Comcast acquired the local affiliate along with 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York and the Englewood Cliffs-based CNBC headquarters when it completed its purchase of NBC Universal from General Electric in February 2013.
“There won’t be any other television station like it in the country,” said David Cohen, Comcast's executive vice president.
Noticiero Telemundo 62, the Spanish-language news program recently acquired by NBC Universal and relocated to the NBC10 studios, will also move to the new building. The station is partnering with NBC10 on the production of their daily 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.
The studios will not be ground-level, so passersby will not be able to watch live newscasts like they do with The Today Show in New York. But reporters can use the outdoor plaza for live shots.
“It will be one of the exciting destinations in Philadelphia,” Roberts said.
Like the Comcast Center’s video wall, the new building’s lobby will also have a feature that attracts visitors. Roberts declined to name specifics, except to say it will be “inviting.”
“We asked Norman Foster to try to bring a design and a building that would be alive," he added. "A place where things get invented and things get imagined.”
The Pritzker Prize-winner’s creation fused a modern, open floor plan more common among tech-startups with the height of a traditional office building.
“We’re competing for talent with Silicon Valley,” said Cohen. “We want to have a building and a facility and a feel that is competitive with that.”
Foster situated the all-glass elevator along the tower’s exterior on 19th street – a dramatic shift from the more typical placement in the center of a building.
“Every time you get off a floor,” Roberts said, “you’ll be looking right through the building back to either the [Arch Street Presbyterian] Church or the Comcast Center.”
The contemporary design includes a water element along the ground floor and an atrium every three floors, further generating the feel of a youth-oriented, shared workspace.
“We transformed ourselves into a software company,” Roberts said. “That sensibility and vibe and culture wants hip, cool, young loft-type space.”
Since taking the helm as Chief Executive Officer in 2002, Roberts has navigated the company - founded by his father in 1963 – through a myriad of technological advances.
“We used to be a cable company,” said Roberts.“We would not call ourselves that any longer.”
The Fortune 500 firm began as a single-system cable operator in Tupelo, Miss. The company, which went public in 1972, morphed throughout the 20th century as it incorporated telecommunication services, introduced the regional sports networks known as Comcast SportsNet and added other broadcast channels like E! Entertainment.
In 2002 the corporation launched high-speed Internet services and Video On Demand and DVR services became available the following year.
Comcast pushed the envelope again in 2009 by offering the initial version of Xfinity TV, which allowed customers to stream video online.
More recently Comcast's cloud-enabled television platforms X1 and X2 allowed subscribers to send a video from their mobile device to their television with the push of a button.
Today the company operates Universal theme parks, creates original films and oversees national and regional programming, while continuing to hold true to its roots with subscriber-based cable, high-speed internet and voice services.
“We have completely transformed …the definition of who we are,” said Roberts, who added the company is now situated at the “cross-section of technology and media.”
And the transformation means more than new products. It means new jobs.
The skyscraper, scheduled to be complete by the end of 2017, will house up to 4,000 Comcast employees.
“We are trying to contribute to our city in the best way we know how,” he added. “And one of those ways is employment.”
Approximately 1,500 of those workers will be new hires, while the remainder will relocate from other offices in the greater Philadelphia region and other lab spaces throughout the country and world, Roberts said.
Engineers, product and software designers, and marketers will make up the bulk of the long-term positions.
He estimated the project will add 20,000 temporary construction jobs to Philadelphia.
While the city stands to gain from the $1.2 billion project, it will also contribute $10 million in grants towards construction. The Commonwealth will chip in an additional $30 million in grants.
The joint venture of Comcast and Liberty Property Trust will apply for the city's 10-year tax abatement, said William Hankowsky, president and CEO of the real estate firm. But, he added, there are no plans to seek tax-increment financing.
The $40 million in total assistance is just shy of the $42.75 million in financial incentives the city and state provided for the construction of the $540 million Comcast Center.
The taxpayer monies will be dedicated to public infrastructure improvements, such as the concourse, Roberts said.
He also says the tax revenue generated during the construction phase will pay off the investment and then some. The city will receive about $15 million in taxes, while around $60 million will be returned to the state, Roberts said.
“I think it is a net win right off the bat for everybody,” he said.
Long-term, the project will have an even more dramatic impact on a city widely known for its underdog mentality.
“The goal was to build a technology and innovation center unlike anything in the world,” Roberts said.
The building’s design and central location is meant to attract the talented and tech-savvy to a city that has steadily lost white-collar jobs since 1970.
“The heart and soul of the company is based here in Philadelphia,” Roberts said.
And now much of its brainpower will be here too.