Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New 47-story tower in University City will break 'gentlemen's agreement' not to build higher than the Cira Centre

Since 2005, in Philadelphia's University City neighborhood, there has been a "gentlemen's agreement" not to build structures taller than the "real pointy top" of the twinkling, 29-story Cira Centre just north of Amtrak's 30th Street Station. The sleek glass office tower completed that same year was to stand as the "top of West Philly for generations." Well, this agreement just got tossed out the window from the 47th floor.

The FMC Tower, a new 47-story building--mostly office, with some residential, and retail--will rise at the northeast corner of 30th Street and Walnut Street and shatter the 437 ft height of the Cira Centre by more than two hundred feet. The new building should be completed by the summer of 2016 if ground is broken by mid 2014.

"You know, this is wrong," said James Caldren, a longtime resident of University City and ardent opponent of the new tower. "The height agreement won't even last ten years. At least William Penn's hat capped the city for 80-some years. Now, UPenn and Drexel will never win an NCAA championship again."

Caldren is referring to the handshake agreement not to build higher than the top of the William Penn statue atop City Hall that was negated with the construction of One Liberty Place in 1987. Many area residents believed that a curse was placed on the local professional sports teams by putting the 37-ft tall, 29-ton statue in the shadows.

Incidentally, the city's title drought lasted from 1983 until 2008, ending with the Phillies' World Series victory over Tampa Bay. Many credit the construction crews working on the rising Comcast Center--the city's tallest building--for ending the curse when, during the topping off ceremony, workers secured a miniature William Penn statue to the top of the structure in 2007.

"Oh, please relax, there will be no curse on the collegiate athletic programs of University City," said the new building's developer Harold Sweringer, of Bourbonwhiskey Real Estate. "There was never any height agreement. Mr Caldren is an active and respected community member and at the very noisy conclusion of the opening ceremonies for the Cira Centre in 2005 he stuck his hand out, so I shook it. I couldn't hear what was going on or being said."

Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania expressed some interest in possibly placing a miniature model of the Cira Centre on top of the new tower. "I'm not a superstitious person," said one university official. "But, I would feel a lot more comfortable about our sports teams if we placed a little Cira Centre model on top of the new skyscraper."

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