FMC to move to 47-story tower in University City
Courted by New Jersey, Delaware, Center City, and suburban landlords, FMC Corp.'s ambitious chief executive, Pierre Brondeau, picked the busy neighborhood where Penn meets Drexel, west of the Walnut Street bridge, for his chemical company's new home.
"A global headquarters allows you to shape the culture of your company, allows you to motivate employees," Brondeau said Thursday, justifying his planned move from several floors spread around 1735 Market St. to the central section of the proposed 47-story FMC Tower at 30th Street and Walnut.
FMC has taken a 16-year lease on 253,000 square feet in the 575,000-square-foot office section of the building. The University of Pennsylvania has a 20-year lease on 100,000 square feet. There will be stores downstairs, 260 apartments upstairs, and an electric FMC logo high on the curved glass face.
"I can't wait to watch Monday Night Football at the Eagles field and see a big FMC sign lit up behind it," Brondeau said. "And the Eagles winning," added Philadelphia's self-described "biggest fan."
Brondeau's choice enabled Brandywine Property Trust, the dominant corporate landlord in Center City and University City, to start work on the $341 million project. It had hoped to start the building five years ago, before the recession scared off would-be tenants.
The tower is designed by architects Pelli Clark Pelli, of New Haven, Conn., and BLT Architects, of Philadelphia. Brandywine is looking for a general contractor.
Talks "really heated up in the past couple of months," as FMC approached its deadline for moving or staying put, said Brandywine chief executive Gerard H. Sweeney.
FMC, which earned a company-record $465 million in profits in 2012, will collect up to $10 million in state taxpayer incentives to defray the estimated $33 million cost of fitting up the new space.
That includes up to $2 million in Pennsylvania Economic Growth Initiative money, $3 million in Pennsylvania First matching-grant developer subsidy, and $5 million from the former Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, money that had been earmarked for other projects.
"That project was not moving forward, so we wanted to move the money to a shovel-ready project that was ready to create jobs," said Steve Kratz, spokesman for the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Sweeney said up to 2,000 construction workers will be employed on the two-year tower raising.
New Jersey offered a sweeter cash deal, but FMC also considered the Brandywine site's proximity to the universities and to its existing workforce, Brondeau said. Pennsylvania's $10 million offer put the state "within shooting distance," he added.
In taking the cash, Brondeau said FMC declined Keystone Opportunity Zone tax breaks that could have reduced its city and state tax bills. "With the city's troubles, with all the public schools' need, we didn't want to get into a no-tax situation," Brondeau added.
Brondeau acknowledged he will pay higher rents than the $30 a square foot that landlords demand for some of the region's most expensive office corners. But FMC will need less space in the newly configured building, so the total rent is "about a wash," he added.
FMC will move its 546 headquarters staff to the new tower by June 2016. The deal gives the company space to expand, said Brandywine's Sweeney. Brandywine's parking garage next door has about 2,000 spaces, some of which are used by IRS workers at Brandywine's former 30th Street post office building.
It's a busy neighborhood. Among other projects, Brandywine is building the 33-story Grove at Cira Centre South student tower at 2930 Chestnut St.
And Drexel University will break ground Friday on a $170 million, 24-story residential and stores complex at 34th Street and Lancaster Avenue, to be built by Hunter Roberts Construction Group and managed by American Campus Communities.
FMC is a specialty chemical company. Its plants prepare pesticides, food and drug additives, lithium, and soda ash for glass and detergent.
The FMC Tower is a symbol of the company's drive to expand its specialty chemicals businesses, even as DuPont Co. and others are shedding units.
"To stay independent depends on our growth and success," Brondeau said. "We've been growing fast. We've gotten our [stock-market value] above $10 billion. We're starting to make FMC a difficult company to acquire."
Inquirer staff writer Bob Fernandez contributed to this article.