Tenants at 1500 inspire neighborhood renewal.

A revitalitizing catalyst in Spring Garden area

Posted: June 04, 2007

Markeeta Upshaw loves what she's seeing in the city's Spring Garden section.

New grocery stores and restaurants have popped up to give the neighborhood a major lift out of the shadow of Center City. Not the least, she's seeing more street life and vitality.

"We didn't have much for a long time," said the 24-year-old Community College of Philadelphia student.

Upshaw and others credit 1500 Spring Garden for the revitalization. Once considered a white elephant, 1500 Spring Garden has become a hot address.

Last month, Day & Zimmermann Inc., a Fortune 100 company, announced it was moving its global headquarters - with 325 employees - from 1818 Market St. to 1500 Spring Garden. It will join tenants CBS3, Independence Blue Cross, and North American Publishing Co.

"We did an exhaustive search and looked all over the region," Bill Yoh, one of the owners of Day & Zimmermann, said of his 106-year-old company's year-and-a-half search for a new home.

The $1.9 billion company, which provides products and outsourcing solutions for government and commercial clients, has leased 122,000 square feet on four floors. Office construction begins in August, and employees move in April.

"It offers a good blend of the commercial, academia and residential," Yoh said of the location. "You don't quite get the same vibrancy and diversity on Market Street."

Though he would not discuss the financial details of the lease, Yoh's firm almost certainly saved some money. Space at 1500 Spring Garden generally rents for about $17 per square foot, according to the building's owners, while Center City space is about $22 per square foot.

Commercial real estate brokers say 1500 Spring Garden is benefiting from two factors: scarce office space in Center City and word-of-mouth by existing tenants.

"The Center City office supply is approaching single-digit vacancy, which means there are fewer and fewer large blocks of space there," said Craig Scheuerle, senior vice president at Grubb & Ellis, who represented CBS3 in its lease transaction. CBS3 moved into 1500 Spring Garden in late March from 101 S. Independence Mall.

Gerald M. Marshall, president of Amerimar Enterprises Inc., which owns the building, said 1500 Spring Garden's recent successes took years of hard work and perseverance.He purchased the building, once the headquarters and manufacturing center of what is now part of GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C., in May 2000.

He and his partner, Angelo, Gordon & Co. - a New York money-management company - made extensive renovations to the building after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001.

"We had to regroup," Marshall said. "After the telecom industry's voracious appetite for space died, we stopped construction on the building and redesigned the property for office tenants."

A big break came in late 2003 when he signed his first tenant - Independence Blue Cross - for 55,000 square feet on the first floor.

That followed with OneBeacon Insurance in December 2004, North American Publishing Co. in May 2005, and CBS3 last fall.Granary Associates, an architectural firm, signed earlier this year.

"After we got our first couple tenants, we realized that the best source of our future business would be to make sure that our existing tenants were extremely happy," Marshall said. "They became our biggest cheerleaders for the next tenants.

"Each lease became easier," he said.

The new tenants at 1500 Spring Garden have provided new business for surrounding local merchants and entrepreneurs.

"The general appearance is much better," said Steve White, owner of Classic Barber & Beauty Salon, which sits across from 1500 Spring Garden and has gotten about a dozen new customers who work there. "It used to be all vacant storefronts. It's a big change."

Anthony Twyman, a spokesman for Community College of Philadelphia - which sits next to 1500 Spring Garden - said the synergy between academia and the high-profile tenants, like CBS3, has been a boost for the area. The college has an annex on the seventh floor of 1500 Spring Garden for administrative offices.

"We've been in this area for quite some time . . . and now we have new neighbors that we can partner with," Twyman said. "It complements what the college has in mind, as far as future development and growth for this area."

Stephen Mullin, an economist who has lived on the 2000 block of Spring Garden Street for 10 years, said a number of residential properties were being rebuilt and refurbished just north of 1500 Spring Garden - which he credits to its new tenants.

"They make the area more attractive, bolstering demand for residential and other uses," he said. "That area was dead for years and has picked up remarkably."

A new mid-rise condo, the Tivoli, is a few blocks to the west at 19th and Hamilton Streets. A new retail center is being discussed just south of 1500 Spring Garden, and a mixed-use project at 16th and Vine Streets has been proposed by Grasso Holdings L.L.C., headed by chairman and CEO David Grasso.

The neighborhood is already home to "the newsroom of the future," raved Susan Schiller, vice president and news director at CBS3, during a recent tour of the station's cavernous open newsroom on the sixth floor.

She said it was the nation's first TV station to be built from the ground up for high-definition broadcasting.

The TV station's master and news-control rooms feature the latest technology and gadgetry; the boardroom is equipped with only high-definition equipment, including a video projector that lowers from the ceiling, and a 12-foot screen.

Then there's the skydeck that's wired directly to the newsroom that allows for quick setup of live shots.

"We offer our viewers a view of the city from our skydeck that you don't normally see," Schiller said. "It's beautiful."

Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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