Tower Investments Inc. took a step closer this morning to converting the State Office Building at Broad and Spring Garden streets into an apartment building with first-floor retail shops.  City Council's Committee on Rules gave the OK for a zoning change that is expected to also get the nod next week from the City Planning Commission.

Developer Bart Blatstein told the committee the area, with the Philadelphia School District just to the south and the Community College of Philadelphia just to the west, is hurting for shopping areas.  "They is very, very little retail," he said. "North Philadelphia needs a huge amount of retail to service the community."

One thing the area isn't lacking is parking.  The building already has 127 underground spaces, a parking lot across the street and is served by a very busy Broad Street subway station.  Blatstein said car-sharing programs are also creating less need for parking.

Tower placed the winning bid in January, $25.2 million, to take over the 19-story building.  Blatstein said the conversion plan will take about 18 months from when the state finishes moving out.  He also plans to build another tower on the property closer to North 15th Street within five years.  The existing building will have about 290 apartments while the new building will have about 185 apartments.  Blatstein said an 800-square-foot apartment will rent for $1,200.