One of the toughest challenges for Brandywine Realty Trust (NYSE: BDN) in owning the Cira Centre office building in Philadelphia isn’t attracting tenants or making cost-cutting decisions. It’s washing the windows of the uniquely designed skyscraper.
The task has become a major production, given the geometrically complex design of the building. First, the building’s roof opens. Then, a boom crane is positioned over top of the building. The crane drops a bucket down that attaches to strips attached to the outer covering of the building, and the bucket moves up and down the building.
“It’s very complicated and has actually been featured on a couple of news programs,” says Jerry Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust.
Situated on the bank of the Schuylkill River, the building is the first and only office tower in Philadelphia’s University City corridor. “The building really has become a bit of a landmark on the Philadelphia skyline,” Sweeney says.
A Commuter’s Dream
Cira Centre is located directly across the street from Amtrak’s 30th Street Station. The skyscraper itself was built on a platform over railroad tracks. A pedestrian bridge links the building’s lobby directly to the adjacent train station.
Brandywine acquired an option to lease the land for the property from Amtrak in 2001. In 2004 that option turned into a long-term ground lease from Amtrak, and Brandywine completed work on the 29-story Cira Centre in fall of 2005.
Because of its proximity to the station, Cira Centre offers easy access to more than 1,000 Amtrak, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and New Jersey transit trains daily. A large focus of Brandywine’s development efforts is on transit-oriented projects such as Cira Centre.
“Properties that are located in close proximity to mass transportation, whether they are train lines, regional rail lines, subway systems or bus lines—they are a key part of the company’s program,” Sweeney explains.
In addition to being located within easy commuting access to other major metropolitan cities such as New York and Washington, Cira Centre’s location within the city offers a multitude of benefits for its tenants, according to Sweeney.
“It sits on the edge of the high-growth University City section in Philadelphia, which is home to universities, medical institutions and other large institutions. It’s a vibrant part of the growing greater Philadelphia region. It also sits on a riverfront trail that people use for recreation and leisure activities,” he says.
Designed to Impress
Although its location helps attracts tenants, the building’s sleek architectural design attracts visitors as well, according to Sweeney. Designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, Cira Centre changes shape when viewed from different angles.
The building also has 1,500 decorative LED fixtures on the exterior that are computer-programmed for light shows to celebrate major holidays, local events and Philadelphia’s sports teams. Tenants can take advantage of amenities such as restaurants, state-of-the-art meeting facilities, a fitness center and a complimentary shuttle bus.
Cira Centre’s location and unique design are among the reasons it has attracted a diverse mix of occupants, according to Sweeney. They range from law firms to financial services firms. The building is also home to the headquarters of a manufacturing company.
“It has a wonderful mix of both small and large tenants,” Sweeney says. “There are a number of tenants that occupy multiple floors.”
Cira Centre Part 2
Building on its success, Brandywine has undertaken a similar project that sits just a block away from the original Cira Centre called Cira Centre South.
Part of the Cira Centre South property was completed following the acquisition of a U.S. Postal Service building in 2007. Brandywine renovated the 900,000-square-foot facility that now houses roughly 5,000 Federal employees.
“We completely repurposed the building all behind a historic façade,” he said. “The project bought a lot of jobs and innovation to University City.”
The second part of the development project will include two towers that will range from about 28 to 32 stories. One will primarily be for residential use, while the other tower will be a mixture of residential and office space. Sweeney anticipates that construction will begin in 12 months.
And what will Cira Centre South look like? Apparently, the original site’s window-washing rig won’t deter Brandywine in building its new facility.
“The design will be very similar to Circa Centre,” Sweeney said. “It will have a lot of movement and have some good angles to it. I think it will be a good icon in the Philadelphia skyline.”