Firm Aiming To Keep Role In Franklintown

Posted: September 28, 1988

Although SmithKline Beckman Corp. will leave the yellow brick building at 15th and Spring Garden Streets that employees fondly call the "yellow mother," company officials say it will not completely abandon the surrounding neighborhood it adopted.

The pharmaceutical company said yesterday that it would close the 40-year- old plant within two to three years, reassigning 1,000 workers to its research and development headquarters in Upper Merion Township and relocating manufacturing to plants elsewhere.

Since 1971, SmithKline has been a key partner in the Franklin Town Corp., a private development agency sponsored by local companies, including Philadelphia Electric Co. and Butcher & Singer Inc. The corporation's mission was to redevelop a 49-acre tract of land west of Broad Street between Vine and Spring Garden Streets with townhouses, office buildings, hotels and convention facilities.

"SmithKline's commitment to Franklintown is unwavering. We'll see that through to the completion," said Richard Rodney, SmithKline's vice president for corporate technical services and president of the Franklin Town Corp.'s board.

Rodney said the development corporation had drawn several hundred million

dollars of investment into the largely industrial area and created about 5,000 jobs.

Although some of the area laid out for the grand scheme lies vacant or is used as parking lots, Rodney pointed to successes at the Museum Towers apartments, 1801 Buttonwood St.; the proposed Realen Properties office development, 16th and Vine Streets, and the One Franklin Plaza office building and adjoining Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel, 17th and Race Streets. He said the corporation also had in formative stages several other projects that he declined to specify.

"As a corporation, we make good on our word," said Rodney. "We entered into this arrangement with our partners in Franklintown with the understanding that it was a worthwhile project, and SmithKline will honor that commitment."

In January, SmithKline and a group of its Franklin Town Corp. partners sold the 800-room Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel to the Wyndham hotel division of Trammell Crow, the Dallas-based real estate development company. The hotel was opened in 1979.

In February 1985, One Franklin Plaza, which houses SmithKline's corporate offices, was sold for an estimated $70 million by Franklin Office Associates to Pantzer Management Co. of Tenafly, N.J.

SmithKline held a majority interest in Franklin Office Associates. The other partners included Adwin Realty, a subsidiary of Philadelphia Electric Co.; Butcher-Franklin & Co.; Peter Pattison Buildings Inc., and Franklin Town Corp.

SmithKline leases about 25 percent of the 600,000-square-foot One Franklin Plaza, said Bill Scott, executive director for commercial properties at Pantzer's Philadelphia office.

Rodney said that in addition to its role in the Franklin Town Corp., SmithKline owns the 12-story, 1-million-square-foot building at 15th and Spring Garden Streets; a parking lot at Broad and Spring Garden Streets; a parking garage and a gas station on 16th Street near Callowhill Street, and a distribution warehouse at Fifth and Spring Garden Streets. The land under the parking garage is leased.

SmithKline will continue to use those buildings for two to three years, Rodney said, while the company develops a new building on some of the 300 acres at its research and development center in Upper Merion. Ronald J. Wagenmann, Upper Merion Township manager, said the company had filed no formal

plans with the township, but he said SmithKline had enough ground to build a new facility there and would not need zoning approvals.

"In the meantime," Rodney said, "we will actively market the properties (in Philadelphia), and we'll try to work with the city and any other agency with an interest in continuing to provide jobs in the area."

City Commerce Director William P. Hankowsky said his office had told SmithKline that it would like to work with the company on seeking new uses for the properties that would create employment.

Real estate brokers in the city said the plant at 15th and Spring Garden was in good condition and would be well-suited for a so-called back-office location for processing paper work generated by banks, insurance companies or other financial-service operations.

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