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Top Philly landlord copes with D.C. vacancy

Office landlord copes with 'obsolescence'

"To like Brandywine Property Trust, one has to like Philadelphia," writes John Guinee, real estate analyst at Stifel & Co. in New York, in a report to clients after the Radnor commercial landlord reported slightly higher than expected 3q profits yesterday. Formerly a company with national aspirations, some 60 percent of Brandywine's income now comes from Center City Philadelphia, where Brandywine controls five of the 10 largest office buildings, and from high end offices in Philly suburbs like Radnor.

Since Philadelphia is a slow growing market with the lowest rents of the major East Coast metro markets, how does Brandywine make money? It buys Philadelphia high rises cheap from disappointed outside investors, fixes them up and lures new tenants; it waits patiently to develop big ticket projects, like the planned 47 story FMC Tower, focus of Brandywine's long delayed expansion of its CIRA development in University City; and it is "proactively addressing functional obsolescence, alternative uses, and excess land," by selling off surplus property or proposing apartments or other projects where it can't lease offices, Guinee adds,

Brandywine's remaining out of town properties in some cities, like Austin, are doing well, though its suburban Washington, DC offices have suffered from federal and contractor cutbacks. Brandywine has high debt, and it won't likely boost its dividend for "a few years," but operations have been "solid," if "uninspiring," Guinee concludes.

Rents for new leases on Brandywine properties rose "an impressive 18 percent" last quarter, adds William Crow, in a report to clients of Raymond James. He expects rising occupancy rates at Brandywine properties and continued higher rents. Crow also noted "a shakeup amongst Brandywine's top brass," with CFO Tom Wirth, a Brandywine veteran and ex President at Feldman Mall Properties, replacing the retiring Howard Sipnzer, and George D. Johnstone promoted to Executive Vice President, Operations. Crow says Brandywine shares will likely rise when suburban Washington real estate recovers.