A bullish vibe at Phila. construction investment gathering

Posted: April 05, 2014

Tables were packed so tightly at the Radisson Plaza-Warwick Hotel for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's construction investment breakfast Thursday that a loose bull would have wreaked real havoc.

But the bullish vibe among the 200 officials from construction companies, government agencies, trade unions, and engineering, architectural and law firms in the ballroom was clearly evident.

"There's a lot more smiling," said panelist Stephen P. Mullin, president of Econsult Solutions, an economic-analysis firm in Philadelphia.

Titled "Region on the Rise: Construction Investment in Greater Philadelphia," the event included two panels: one discussing investments in transportation; the other focused on real estate and construction.

There was heady talk of the $500 million that the State of Pennsylvania will spend this year to repair and replace area roads and bridges.

Panelist John Gattuso, senior vice president and regional director of Liberty Property Trust, effused about the $1.6 billion skyscraper his company is building with in partnership with Comcast Corp. in Center City. It will yield 6,300 jobs during construction, with $340 million set aside for companies owned by minorities, women and the disabled.

"That's an enormous vote of capital in the city of Philadelphia," he said.

Other projects were discussed, as well: $341 million for a 47-story skyscraper at 30th and Walnut Streets for FMC Corp.; $280 million that Starwood Hotels & Resorts International plans to spend to build a W Hotel on Chestnut Street, along with projects on East Market Street.

"Philadelphia is now a place of choice," John Grady, president of Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., told the group. Earlier investments in, for example, the Schuylkill recreational trail and tourism marketing have created the kind of place that is now attracting residents and investors, he said.

Philadelphia had been known as a closed business community that wasn't welcoming to outsiders, Grady said, but that has changed, with outside firms now making capital investments.

The only cautionary note was sounded by Steven S. Lakin, president of the General Building Contractors Association, and moderator of the construction panel.

"I get a little nervous when I hear the word 'boom,' " he said.

His organization consists of builders that hire union carpenters, cement masons, laborers, ironworkers, and operating engineers.

Despite the bullish mood, Lakin said, unemployment in those trades still runs about 30 percent.


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769215-854-2769 

@JaneVonBergen

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