Cable Operators

Comcast Reaches to the Sky

1/09/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

As the No. 1 MSO in the country, Comcast Corp. dominates the cable landscape.

In two years, it will have the same impact on the skyline of Philadelphia.

After a state economic development deal that would have given it millions of dollars in tax breaks fell through late last year, Comcast Corp. completed a deal with Pennsylvania that will allow it to build a gleaming 975-foot office tower near the city’s center.

Comcast said last week that it agreed to a 15-and-a-half-year lease on One Pennsylvania Plaza, the $435 million office building being developed by Liberty Property Trust.

The 57-story tower — designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and to be named Comcast Center — will be the tallest building in the city once it is completed.

FALL ’07 COMPLETION

Construction on the facility is scheduled to begin later this month, with completion expected in the fall of 2007.

Comcast, which currently has about 1,300 employees at its current headquarters at 1500 Market St. in the city, expects to have about 1,900 headquarters employees by the time it moves into the new facility.

Comcast will lease about 534,000 square-feet of space at the building, or about 44% of its total available office space. It has the option to require an additional building — a 15-story tower with about 250,000 square feet of space — should it need more room.

The MSO has been looking for a new headquarters building since 2000. Founded in 1969, the company was first located in the Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd, moving to the city in the late 1980s. The building it moved into, in Meridian Plaza, burned in 1991, prompting Comcast to move into temporary office space at 1234 Market St.

Comcast moved into 1500 Market St. in 1994.

Last year, Comcast believed it had a deal to build a new headquarters in the heart of Philadelphia, exploiting the Pennsylvania Keystone Opportunity Zone program, a tax incentive plan aimed at keeping businesses in the city. Comcast would have been exempt from state and local business taxes until 2015, provided it met certain job-creation criteria.

Rival developers opposed designating the Comcast tower as a Keystone Opportunity Zone, arguing the program was targeted at smaller businesses that might leave the city. As the largest U.S. MSO, with 21.5 million subscribers, Comcast had the financial wherewithal to remain in the city and did not need tax incentives to do so, developers argued.

Pennsylvania state legislators ultimately decided not to create the KOZ zone, in December.

“Our developers are like developers in every other city, which is that they are against any new building,” Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said last week. “The only difference between Philadelphia and other cities is that anybody listened to them.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a longtime proponent of the deal, had a backup plan: a $30 million grant that would offset the costs of infrastructure improvements for Liberty and a $12.75 million economic incentive package for Comcast.

That package was included in a separate economic development initiative that the state Legislature approved earlier last year.

The $30 million grant will be used by Liberty Property to defray the costs of improvements to the site, including a half-acre public plaza; a new formal entrance to Suburban Station; expansion of the underground Suburban Station concourse to accommodate additional regional rail service; and a full reconstruction and upgrade of the utilities at the site.

Comcast’s incentives include a $4 million Opportunity Grant, $6.75 million in Job Creation Tax Credits and $2 million in Job Training Assistance.

Only the job-creation tax credits are specifically tied to actual job creation, Cohen said. The Job Training assistance is tied to reimbursement for job training expenses, but not specifically to jobs, he said.

Cohen — who was Democrat Rendell’s chief of staff when the governor was Philadelphia’s mayor — also said Comcast agreed to create 600 to 700 new jobs in the state.

HQ, CALL-CENTER ADDS

Cohen said Comcast has averaged about 150 new headquarters jobs per year over the past three years. And a $20 million expansion of its call center in West Chester, Pa. — scheduled for completion in about two years — should add another 220 jobs.

The MSO currently has 10,000 employees in Pennsylvania.

“The bottom line is that we will add more jobs in Pennsylvania than we are committed to do to draw down all of the job creation tax credits,” Cohen said.

The new Comcast Center will have enough space to accommodate between 3,000 and 4,000 Comcast employees. While Comcast has made no commitments to grow its headquarters base to that level, Cohen said that with possible consolidation of other offices around the country to Philadelphia, and the possible creation of new cable networks and products, Comcast could come close to that figure.

September