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Office tower planned at long-empty lot near Philadelphia City Hall

Artist's rendering of office building planned at 1301 Market St. in Philadelphia, as seen from street level.
Artist's rendering of office building planned at 1301 Market St. in Philadelphia, as seen from street level.Read moreSkidmore, Owings & Merrill

Developer Oliver Tyrone Pulver Corp. is proposing a 38-story office tower on a long-empty lot east of City Hall, a sign of confidence that Philadelphia will continue its run of keeping and attracting big corporate tenants.

The West Conshohocken-based developer is under contract to acquire the roughly 35,000-square-foot site at the northwest corner of 13th and Market Streets from the estate of property investor Samuel Rappaport, company president Donald Pulver said Monday.

The project represents a return to Center City for Oliver Tyrone Pulver, which developed the office buildings at 1234 and 1600 Market St. in the 1970s and 1980s but then shifted its focus to suburbs such as Conshohocken.

"The wind is blowing a little bit back toward the city now, so that's why we're back," Pulver said. "The investment community seems to be high on downtowns."

Planned is an 840,000-square-foot, glass-sheathed structure with retail space,  to be designed by architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The building, which is being called 1301 Market Street, should be ready for occupancy by early 2020.

Pulver said his company plans to close on the development site after completing its permitting process and other predevelopment steps, which are expected to take at least a year.

Pulver and his team will likely use the time before completing the purchase to find anchor tenants willing to pay what likely will be market-leading rents for space in the new building, said Bill Luff, founder of commercial real estate consultancy CRE Visions.

"He's buying time to see if the market will accept that site for that rent in that time frame," Luff said.

The 1301 Market Street tower would join a spate of sleek new office high-rises reshaping the central Philadelphia skyline as companies expand and others are lured by the area's educated workforce, easy transit connections, and hip urban vibe.

Among those projects are the just-completed FMC Tower on the eastern edge of University City and Comcast Corp.'s second Center City skyscraper, the Comcast Technology Center, now rising at 18th and Arch Streets.

"There's a strong appetite for office development in Center City," said Michael Silverman, a managing director at Integra Realty Resources in Philadelphia. "You can actually feel this excitement going on."

Oliver Tyrone Pulver's most recent projects locally include the 1.5 million-square-foot Tower Bridge office and hotel complex in Conshohocken. Currently under development at that site is the 225,000-square-foot Seven Tower Bridge office building, scheduled for completion in 2018.

The site at 1301 Market St. was previously occupied by a row of blighted buildings from the early 20th century that were cleared in the 1990s. The space is currently used as a parking lot.

If completed, the tower would be the first so-called trophy-class office property in Philadelphia's Market East sector east of City Hall, traditionally a lower-end market, said Lauren Gilchrist, Philadelphia research director at commercial real estate firm JLL.

But with Market East office rents now close to those of the city's main business corridor west of City Hall, Oliver Tyrone Pulver's plan for high-end offices there could be justified, Gilchrist said.

Also helping draw tenants are the Market East area's high concentration of train and subway stations and the stores and restaurants opening to serve its growing residential population, said Robert Fahey, an executive vice president at commercial real estate services firm CBRE in Philadelphia.

Other projects in the area include the redevelopment of the Gallery at Market East shopping mall and the East Market residential and retail complex on Market Street between 11th and 12th.

"That side of City Hall is transforming faster than any other part of our central business district," he said.