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Wells Fargo moves 250 jobs to Philly, leaving Chester offices half empty

10-year-old Wharf at Chester faces 58% vacancy without new tenants

Wells Fargo, the dominant bank in the Philadelphia area, is moving 250 mortgage processing workers out of the Wharf at Rivertown development on the Delaware waterfront in Chester, to the Plaza office building in Philadelphia at 5th and Market. The move comes 10 years after the former Chester power plant reopened as an office building offering tenants urban development tax breaks; it was supposed to be a centerpiece of Chester's new waterfront development, with the Harrah's casino and Philadelphia Union soccer stadium.

Another 110 Wells Fargo workers remain at the Wharf for now, but "the lease at Chester expires later this year," with no guarantee it will be renewed, confirms Barbara Nate, a bank spokeswoman. The move follows Wells Fargo's decision last month to move 120 jobs from its legal information processing unit out of the Plaza and down to Charlotte, N.C., as I reported here.  "We always look to optimize existing space," Nate added. "We consolidate in some areas, we staff up in others." The bank employs more than 6,000 in the region.

That matches a research note from Sean Barrie, analyst for New York-based Trepp LLC, on rising vacancy at the Chester office center. The Trepp report noted $55.2 million in financing that forms part of a $6 billion real estate securitization bond (GSMS 2007-GG10) has been "modified" by Barclays, the bank managing the deal, to reflect rising vacancy there. According to Trepp (corrected): "Wells Fargo Financial occupied 52% of space through August." The bankers servicing the loan had previously warned that Wells Fargo "was downsizing. Now it appears the firm might be leaving completely," with occupancy falling to 51%, from a previous 93%, and set to fall to 41% once the major tenant (Wells Fargo) has completely moved out. Wells had occupied just over half the building.