Monday, February 25, 2008

It's Not 'Goodbye Broad Street' for Inky

Patriot Equities may not have fully sewn up the deal to buy the Inquirer Building, as Publisher Brian Tierney says in today's Daily News, but I'd wager a year's subscription to the Inquirer (what can I say, I'm partisan) that the building's two newsrooms aren't going to be packing up and leaving anytime soon. Philadelphia Media Holdings, which bought the Inquirer and Daily News in 2006, put the landmark white tower on the block last August. While no official price was disclosed, developers said the original number was upwards of $60 million.

It's not clear how much Patriot, a Wayne company that was assembled by alumni from Mike O'Neill's Preferred Real Estate, is offering now, but many suspect the sale price will be much less. The big question now is what will Patriot do for PMH. We know that Patriot specializes in lease-back deals. For all Tierney's broad hints about being courted by New Jersey Gov. Corzine for a a high-profile spot on the Camden waterfront, one suspects the talks are nothing more than a strategic flirtation. Why else would architects from H2L2 be prowling the newsroom here all last week, with clipboards and blueprints in hand? They're getting ready to renovate.

They most likely scenario is that Patriot will buy the 1924 neo-classical tower, along with the former printing building, adjacent parking garage and surface lot - and then lease a good part of it right back to PMH. Tierney and Co. get a much-needed cash infusion for PMH, and Patriot gets a ready-made tenant.
It's very clever on Patriot's part: It buys the historic and symbolically charged Inquirer property at a rock-bottom price, then waits until the market comes back. By then Bart Blatstein will have packed the State Office Buildings with apartments and shops. David Grasso will have completed his Whole Foods complex at 16th and Vine. And the Inquirer's parking lot site - right next to the Vine Street interchange - will be in position to attract big box retail and maybe even an office tower.

In the meantime, the Inquirer and Daily News newsrooms stay exactly where they are, but Patriot remodels our archaic offices so they no longer look like a set from The Front Page. I've even heard talk that Patriot intends to put a Starbucks-like cafe in that fabulous, but wasted, ground-floor space on Broad Street, where you used to be able to watch the presses run. Oh let it be so!

But as a battle-scarred veteran of the old-media biz, I know that our working conditions may occasionally change, but never actually get any better. Most likely, PMH is going to lease-back only the lower five floors,
with their immense and problematic floorplates. The vast, open-plan spaces are perfect for an old-style newsroom, but not much else. Patriot will then be able rent the more manageable tower as offices to boutique clients.

If that happens, Patriot and PMH will have to consolidate the thousand or so employees now in the building into the lower five. Some employees may go to PMH's printing plant in Conshocken, but I suspect it's going to get more crowded in here. Patriot and PMH may even decide insert an extra floor into the Inquirer's glorious double-height newsroom to fit everyone Wouldn't you know it - just when I've finally assembled a nice little cubicle empire from the empty desks!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice that the Inq is staying.

Neat photo, too!

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it is great that the Inky/DN building will be redeveloped with mixed use of it and a new retail component. As for the lots on 15th Street they would be good for big box retail , but I doubt anyone would put a high rise office building there when they have an empty lot for sale accross Broad St from Inky/DN front entrance. Also, parking lots at Broad & Callohill and Broad & Spring Garden would be much more condusive to high rise buildings

8:47 PM  

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