Inquirer staff writer Jeff Shields reports:

Developer Bart Blatstein looks like he's getting the zoning he needs to transform the Philadelphia State Office Building at Broad and Spring Garden streets from a bastion of bureaucracy to a 500-unit residential and retail complex. Now if he could only get the state to move out.

City Council's Rule's Committee this morning unanimously recommended approval of a zoning change that would allow Blatsteins's new use. The bill won't be up for final approval until January, but there's no rush.

The Commonwealth was supposed to be out of the building by last month, moving its 900 state workers from various agencies -- including the departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, Education, Insurance, Labor & Industry and Public Welfare -- into offices at 801 Market and 801 Arch streets. But the state is still trying negotiate a lease for the Market Street space, and Blatstein said he doesn't expect the state to be out of the building before the middle of 2009.

Blatstein said his Tower Investments company will start renovations as soon as the state leaves, with construction slated to take 18 months. The project, including the $25.2 million purchase price, is estimated at $100 million. Tower Investments will not close on the property until the state has vacated. 

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