Comcast Center topped off

Keeping alive a centuries-old tradition - with a Philadelphia twist - a beam was hoisted to the highest point of Comcast Center today, topping off Philadelphia's new tallest skyscraper.

There was a small tree at one end of the beam, which had been signed by workers and those gathered for the ceremony, and an American flag at the other.

Between them was a statue of William Penn, the city's founder. There is a myth that Philadelphia's sports teams will not win a championship as long as a building "rises above Billy Penn" on City Hall, said Bill Hankowsky, chief executive officer of Liberty Property Trust, the Malvern company that is building Comcast Center.

He was referring to the controversy two decades ago when One Liberty Place, also built by Liberty, became the first to break that barrier.

"We don't believe in the myth, but to be safe we've added the statue of Billy Penn," Hankowsky said.

Comcast Corp. has leased 91 percent of the skyscraper at 17th Street and JFK Boulevard in Center City. The regional headquarters of Citizens Bank will also be in the building.

"It is almost overwhelming when you see what the workers have done," Brian L. Roberts, chief executive officer of Comcast, said before the ceremony.

The new building, with its high ceilings, complex systems and modern studio space, will spur Comcast's growth, Roberts said. "We'll be able to work together. Now we're spread out in several buildings."

The five lower floors of the building will be occupied in November while work continues above; completion is scheduled for next spring.

Roberts and Hankowsky paid tribute to Willard Rouse III, the founder of Liberty Property Trust, who died in 2003, and whom they credited with giving Philadelphia a modern skyline. He led a long battle in the 1980s to end the agreement that no building rise above the Penn statue.

Tomorrow would have been Rouse's 65th birthday.

Contact staff writer Henry J. Holcomb at 215-854-2614 or