Philadelphia Business Journal – Another $3M in renovations for Center City’s Wanamaker building

By Natalie Kostelni  – Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal

A partnership between Rubenstein Partners and Amerimar Enterprises, two Philadelphia real estate companies, is nearly done with a $10 million, first phase of a renovation at the Wanamaker office building in Center City that reconfigured the lobby to improve its logistics.

Prior to the work, it was difficult for the unfamiliar to find their way around, frustrating those who came to the building for work or even to attend an event at its Crystal Tea Room.

Next up is a $3 million second phase that will create a new amenity space for the building between the 8th and 9th floors. That work will entail adding an interior staircase to connect the two floors and updating a fitness center located on the 8th floor. In addition, an atrium space on the 9th floor will be fashioned into a common area with a coffee bar and a variety of seating. The space will have new fixtures, flooring and finishes. Combined the two floors total 20,000 square feet.

The 9th floor already has some shared conference rooms, which is an often requested amenity in office buildings, and the Crystal Tea Room is also located on that floor and will have access to renovated atrium.

“We’re taking the suburban amenity center concept and putting it in the middle of our office building,” said Steve Card, principal at Rubenstein.

For years, downtown landlords didn’t think such amenities were important, thinking that the urban environment provided just about everything one needed and within steps from the office buildings. That sentiment has changed in recent years.

Landlords of just about every major office building in Philadelphia’s Central Business District have spent millions taking a space, often a full floor, in their properties and dedicating it to providing a range of amenities to tenants. They are used to set the buildings apart from the competition and have generally helped push rents up.

The second phase of the Wanamaker renovation is expected to be completed by March.

The first phase work was extensive. Aside from improving the flow of people who enter the building, including installing new escalators, the renovation also involved updating the lobby. Its drab 30-year-old motif was updated with materials such as white marble. A new, centralized security area, lighting and a 350-square-foot media wall was also installed in the south lobby.

“It was a mess to get people where they needed to go,” Card said about how the lobby had been configured. “You had to find your way around.”

The north lobby, where Passero’s is located, will also see renovations along with additional seating areas.

The investment the Rubenstein-Amerimar partnership is making in Wanamaker is also a reflection of how it views East Market, which is seeing $3 billion of institutional money flow into the area by 15 different developers and landlords in a variety of projects including to office, residential and retail, according to JLL research.

As a result, there has been a shift in how office tenants view that portion of the city, which has had its ups and downs over the years with the vacancy rate at times shooting up only to rebound after some time. The renewed acceptance of East Market was acknowledged with the relocation of Five Below’s headquarters to the Lit building and Macquarie Group signing a lease on 145,000 square feet at One Hundred Independence Place, which more recently had been known as the Dow building.

“Market West is still today the institutional and financial heart of the Central Business District but the cultural and heart of the city has moved east if it hasn’t always been there,” Card said. “Now it’s all coming together. You have office tenants looking at Market East as a viable alternative.”