Comcast Center is topping off

Posted: June 18, 2007

When the skyscraper now called Comcast Center, to be topped off at a ceremony today, was announced in 2001, it was to "rise up in a quiet way."

That changed in 2005 when Comcast Corp. leased most of the space. Instead of stone the color of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, its exterior would be glass and, architect Robert A.M. Stern promised, "spectacularly lit at night."

It became a symbol of Comcast's rapid rise to the top of Philadelphia business and the nation's cable television industry. Where church steeples and later City Hall were once the power symbols of the city's skyline, Comcast wanted its skyscraper to proclaim a vibrant new era in the birthplace of American democracy.

Comcast Center also stirred bitter controversy, like buildings before it that changed the city. City Hall sits on what was once the most important of five public squares city founder William Penn had in his master plan, a plan many fought to preserve. One Liberty Place, which reigned as the city's tallest building for 19 years and was the first to rise above Penn's statue atop City Hall, survived a firestorm of protest.

Its developer, Willard Rouse III, said later he never would have undertaken that building if he'd known how fierce the controversy would become. "I guess I was well served by my ignorance," Rouse said in an interview as he battled the cancer that took his life at age 60. He died in 2003 while he and his company, Liberty Property Trust of Malvern, was planning to build Comcast Center.

Owners of rival buildings roared with anger at the prospect of a new towering competitor. They turned out their lights at night, saying the Comcast Center would drive vacancy rates north of 20 percent and darken the city's economy. That has not happened. The current vacancy rate is 12.7 percent.


Contact staff writer Henry J. Holcomb at 215-854-2614 or hholcomb@phillynews.com.

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