Located at 1 South Penn Square at the very heart of Philadelphia, the Widener Building is an emblematic architectural gem that has been a key part of the cityscape for over a century. The iconic edifice was designed and built by Horace Trumbauer, a local builder-planner, and hailed today as one of the most prominent American architects.
Although these days Trumbauer’s work is highly appreciated, the professional feedback he received during his lifetime wasn’t too positive. After a 6-year apprenticeship and some low-key work in designing middle-class homes, he was awarded his first big project in 1893, when he designed Grey Towers Castle, the high-end estate of the wealthy sugar magnate William Welsh Harrison. But Trumbauer’s success only came after Harrison introduced him to Peter Arrell Browne Widener, for whom he designed a 110-room Georgian revival palace that basically launched his career.
From then onward, he kept on planning and building extravagant residential manors and estates for the upper class for which he didn’t get any professional recognition during his lifetime. Despite this, he was an extremely wealthy man and towards his final years he also designed hotels, office buildings and even the campus of Duke University.
It was Peter A. B. Widener, the head of the Widener family and one of three men who built the Philadelphia tram system, who made Trumbauer a highly sought-after architect in the high-profile circles of the wealthy families of the Gilded Age, hiring him for multiple projects. After designing and building many extravagant mansions for the most prominent families in Philadelphia, Horace Trumbauer was approached by Widener to build an office building at One South Penn Square, on the location of the former Mint Arcade.
Situated at the conjunction of Chestnut Street and Penn Square, the Widener Building was erected in 1916. At that time it stood out from the crowd thanks to its height of nearly 260 feet, its 18 stories and its 433,959-square-foot interior.
The Neo-classical development is estimated to have cost Widener a whopping $5 million at the time of completion. The building had an unbeatable advantage—a strategic location, extremely close to Philadelphia’s geographic center and some important landmarks, such as Penn Square, John Wanamaker’s department store and the site of City Hall.
Throughout the years, the Widener Building has experienced its fair share of alterations and additions on various floors. In the 1960’s, the building’s façade was quite significantly “modernized,” losing some of its main decorative elements in the process. Recent restoration efforts, led by O’Donnell & Naccarato’s chief architect Francis Chauffman, implemented modern services and amenities by adding a new basement parking garage. The building’s original façade was restored to its historical form, along with the iconic 3-story high arcade, that runs through the building from South Penn Square to Chestnut Street.
The building has experienced quite a few interesting happenings in the course of its 100+ years of existence, which includes fires, suicides and even condemnation for its 4th and 5th floors by the FBI, who tried their best to avoid signing a 5-year lease. It gave home to some prominent businesses throughout the years, including the renowned jeweler J. E. Caldwell and Company. Today it still functions as an office building with leasable spaces available to tenants.
As part of its expansion plan, premium flex space provider Industrious is opening new offices in several cities in the United States. In partnership with Seritage Growth Properties, the coworking company will bring premium workspaces to five locations within the Seritage portfolio. The first location to open is in La Jolla, California.
Industrious’ first lease was inked at The Collection in San Diego, a large-scale redevelopment of the old Sears box at Westfield UTC. National retail and mixed-use developer Seritage Growth Properties, who spearheads the extensive retail project, partnered with Industrious to bring 29,000 square feet of premium coworking space to their development.
“Industrious is a wonderful complement to the integrated mixed-use environments we are curating throughout our portfolio,” said Benjamin Schall, President and CEO of Seritage Growth Properties. “Our differentiated settings provide Industrious customers with enhanced amenities surrounded with food and dining, health and wellness, and complimentary retail experiences. These synergies are at the forefront of the transformation of retail redevelopment.”
The new coworking office is expected to open by the end of 2020. The expansion to San Diego comes after Industrious built its presence in Los Angeles and Irvine. By the end of the year, a separate Industrious site in the 1 Columbia Place building at 401 W. A St. in San Diego will also open for business.
Industrious has a member-centric, hospitality-driven approach, and the company is known for its uniquely designed spaces that boost productivity. The firm’s entire U.S. portfolio includes 75 locations in 40 cities. Its membership includes companies such as Hyatt, Lyft, Pinterest and more.
“Industrious has been at the forefront of bringing flexible workspace to vibrant mixed-use settings and we are proud to be partnering with Seritage Growth Properties to continue to expand this offering across the country,” said Justin Stewart, president and co-founder of Industrious. “The demand for an integrated community of work, life, and shopping is growing and, with Seritage, we have found a like-minded, innovative partner who shares our vision in creating high-quality customer experiences.”
General Manager and Senior Associate at Radius Commercial Real estate, Brian Johnson is the latest expert to share his insights with us. Brian started his career in commercial real estate in 2002, serving the Central Coast where he has completed a high number of both sales and leases. In 2012, he shifted towards property investment at Radius, where Brian oversees operations and staff. He specializes in assisting investors with targeted buying and selling of properties, as well as assisting his clientele in managing their portfolios.
Prior to Radius, Brian acted as a main driver for multiple network planning and development projects for major players in the communications industry. We picked his brain to find out more about his point of view when it comes to market trends and tips on marketing properties. Read on to find out more.
Q: Could you start by telling us a little bit about your background and why you chose a career in commercial real estate?
I’ve been involved in commercial real estate since 2002 when I moved to Santa Barbara. I had previously directed real estate and land use planning in the wireless telephone industry, building networks across the country. I was able to leverage my background in economics and real estate in landing a position at the largest commercial real estate firm on the South Coast, Radius Commercial Real Estate. Now, in addition to brokering as a Senior Associate, I also serve as General Manager, overseeing our operations across two offices and 23 agents.
Q: How would you describe the market in the U.S. today in terms of trends and challenges?
We’re facing some interesting challenges in our space today that also bring some exciting opportunities. We’ve seen the trend toward co-working space really take root in the office environment, and now more and more in the retail sector as well. While there are concerns that companies like WeWork are looking to become defacto landlords across the country, potentially squeezing out the need for commercial brokers, I don’t see that as a long term challenge. Landlords and tenants alike will always need to have the best data available to make informed decisions for their businesses and that’s where commercial brokers shine. Having both the historical knowledge and knowing what is happening on a day to day basis is critical. Technology might be seen as a threat to some but I see it as a tool for savvy brokers to provide even greater service and benefits to clients. Technology can even help you get out in front of potentially challenging situations, saving you and your clients invaluable time and money.
Q: What changed in the past years in the local California commercial scene?
One big change to the California commercial real estate landscape, literally, is the proliferation of the cannabis industry. It’s no longer the green elephant in the room. Ever since it’s become legal at the adult level we’ve seen new and creative ventures formed to take advantage of what could be a huge opportunity, not just in the agricultural area but in all sectors. Retail, office and industrial all will be touched through the manufacture, testing, distribution and sale of cannabis and cannabis related products.
We’re also seeing a convergence between the residential and commercial real estate industries when it comes to housing. California is struggling with a real crisis when it comes to housing units and it is going to take concerted efforts to solve the issue. We’ve seen the arguments that California is too expensive to live in because of the high cost of housing but we can help mitigate the issue by leading the way in getting creative in how to build more housing units. We’re seeing some buy-in at both state and local levels but we have a long way to go.
Q: What are some of the innovative and modern techniques and tactics for marketing a space that didn’t exist even ten years ago?
The maturation of the internet and, more specifically, mobile devices are far and away the two biggest influencers in marketing property today. The internet has been around for some time but our industry tends to be behind others when it comes to adoption. We’ve got so many ways of reaching targets now through the creative use of online platforms like social media, multimedia marketing, immersive video and augmented reality. Today you can push a new listing out to a targeted segment of clients that will give them much of the information they need to decide whether a property is the right choice before they physically set foot on the premises. The challenge we see is that with all this new bandwidth comes a lot of noise and clutter, making it more important than ever for commercial brokers to differentiate themselves with a balance of personal service and technology.
Q: How has the evolution of online marketing impacted the commercial real estate industry?
It has changed everything. Online marketing allows us to easily broadcast to a national and international level. We’ve got buyers from all over the world that want to invest here and having the ability to reach them directly and expediently is critical. I’ll never discount the strength of a one-on-one relationship but I see online marketing as a tool to get us that introduction on a scale we would never have imagined 10 to 20 years ago.
Q: Do you think there’s anything that you believe everyone in this industry should be working towards?
I believe it’s never been more important for commercial real estate practitioners to be out in the field working hand in hand with clients. Let’s face it, we’re witnessing some revolutionary advancements, changes and evolution in nearly every corner of commerce, from how people work in and use office space, to how retailers are adapting to a new world order of online and on-demand shopping. Commercial real estate professionals need to be active participants in helping our clients navigate this change. With all the benefits of technology it can be easy for some to take a more passive role in brokering space. But commercial brokers with market knowledge, historical perspective and a strong grasp of economics and business practice can help be drivers of success to ensure that our clients create or choose space that works best for the long term.
Q: Any other insights you would like to share?
If you don’t know it already, Santa Barbara and the greater South Central Coast region is a great place to not only visit but to invest in. Climate, quality of life, strong economic fundamentals, central location and ease of access to larger markets like Los Angeles and San Francisco, we’ve got it all!
The REIT market has seen just a single initial public offering (IPO) this year, and signs are pointing to a dearth of activity for the remainder of 2019, according to Justin Salon, REIT practice co-chair at law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
“Typically, you have a handful. To have just one as we sit here almost at June is certainly a downturn in the market,” Salon said. While Morrison & Foerster currently has two IPOs in registration, generally “we’re not seeing a whole lot…we may see a couple this year,” he added.