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N.J. company seeks Philly headquarters (Updates)

Hill International would leave Marlton for Center City

(Is Hill leaving to avoid getting squeezed out? See Update below) Hill International, the multinational construction consulting company, is seeking a new headquarters location in Center City Philadelphia, David Richter, the 4,000-person company's president and chief operating officer, tells me. "It's easier to hire people, and there are better buildings and a better labor pool" downtown, compared to the company's longtime base in Marlton, N.J., he added.

"We are exploring the possible move of our headquarters to a Center City office building," Richter says. Hill already leases a Philadelphia office in the Graham building on 15th St. south of City Hall, but Richter says HIll's longtime real estate agent, Anne Klein of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, is seeking a larger 60,000-70,000 sq ft space to accomodate at least 200 people initially, and is looking at several Philadelphia high rises as possible locations. Not the Navy Yard business center, he added. Richter also says Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett's Philadelphia "action team" and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. are helping scout sites and "helpful tax incentives" to sweeten the cost of a move.

"It makes sense to be downtown, the way we have grown," Richter added. With more than 100 worldwide offices, Hill has landed jobs in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and particularly the Middle East, where it has a network of veteran dealmakers. Richter says a downtown Philadelphia location makes it easier to hire young people. Though he acknowledged that Hill could still stay in Marlton -- if its current landlord, Liberty Property Trust, were to come up with an attractive new lease for the existing headquarters at 303 Lippincott, which Hill first leased in 2001. The lease runs out in April 2015.

Richter says Hill could stay in Marlton at the right price, but he's not interested in other South Jersey sites.

(Update, afternoon:) That may be just as well, because "at least ten" South Jersey business tenants are looking for blocs of space measuring at least 30,000 sq ft -- and Hill and other longtime tenants "could get pushed out" if they're not willing to pay higher rents, says Jason Wolf, boss at Wolf Commercial Real Estate, Marlton.

He noted Xerox's Philadelphia-area offices and Subaru of America's national headquarters, both currently located in Cherry Hill, are looking for sites "on both sides of the river," and added that technology, medical, insurance companies and at least one large nonprofit are also looking for South Jersey space. On Lippincott, Hill's expansive neighbors include the Virtua healthcare system.

Liberty has lately been selling its suburban office buildings to concentrate on warehouses and a handful of large urban projects. The building where Hill is located is on a long list of offices in South Jersey, Ft. Washington and other markets which Liberty has agreed to sell, in stages, for $705 million, to a group of investors. UPDATED: Liberty has identified the buyer as Greenfield Real Estate LLC, which (as Greenfield Partners, Nowalk, Conn.) earlier joined other investors in buying a smaller portfolio of Liberty offices.

-- Joseph N. DiStefano