Philadelphia's Center City has become the most appealing real estate for businesses in town

Estimator David Gyurina works at a standing desk in one of the newly renovated open offices at The Drexel Building in Philadelphia, PA. on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018. Clemens moved into the Drexel Building in 1995 but expanded to a new floor last year as the company’s volume of work increased. The floor’s open design is meant to encourage interaction between employees.

When Clemens Construction Company expanded to a second floor in the historic Drexel Building on Walnut Street last year, the project was a lot like the preservation work the firm does elsewhere in the region.

“A lot of the work that we do is taking old buildings and making them modern and safe while still maintaining the historic look and feel,” said Communications Director Lindsey Pouppirt.

While the firm has been headquartered in Center City since its founding in 1979, Pouppirt said the new second-floor space was designed with a modern, open floor plan in the nearly century-old building.

“The thing about Philadelphia is we have so many historic buildings,” she said. “There’s a definite demand by developers and users to inhabit these historic buildings, but of course no one wants to work in a crappy, falling-down building.”

Having a downtown location near the urban infill projects and historic sites where Clemens works was important to the firm. “The types of projects that we work on here are very iconic and quintessential Philadelphia projects,” she said.

Health Union co-founders Olivier Chateau and Tim Armand realized quickly that their company, which creates online communities for people with chronic health conditions, needed to make the switch from a virtual office to a brick-and-mortar space.

Camera icon Tracie Van Auken
At Health Union’s Chestnut Street offices employees are welcome to work on the couches as often as they work at their desks.

Deciding to open downtown was easy, Armand said. “We never even discussed it. Of course it was going to be in the city – it was a no-brainer.”

Clemens, Health Union and Think Company were among several Top Workplace honorees whose senior leadership described their downtown locations as integral to their success.

“When we envision the future of our company and who’s working here and what it feels like for them, it was very clear that we needed to be downtown,” said Think Company CEO Russ Starke.

The design company first opened in Conshohocken and expanded to the Packard Grande building on South 15th Street in 2014. A second expansion in the Philadelphia Building on Walnut Street opened last year. Starke said the company relies on its historic office spaces to maintain client relationships.

“As soon as they get off the elevator [in the Packard Grande], they literally gasp,” he said. “It’s an experience to come and work in those spaces.”

Given that so many of the company’s clients are in the city, Starke said the location makes meetings easier. Clients from out of town find visiting the Center City offices preferable, too.

“They want to get the Philly experience,” Starke said. “They always want to know where we’re getting lunch – that’s a high point for them.”

Camera icon Slalom
The Slalom cafe area features a long dining room table as well as a bar seating to accommodate employees.

At Slalom Philadelphia, General Manager Amy Loftus said the consulting firm, with headquarters in Seattle, relies on proximity to its clients. Their location at Two Logan Square makes them neighbors with several.

“In some instances, it’s just going down our own elevator bank, or it’s walking up to Market Street,” she said.

Noah Ostroff, who recently opened Keller Williams Philadelphia, a Realty office on South Broad Street at Bainbridge Street, said the location just outside Center City is ideal for clients as well as agents.

“The city is the hottest part of the region right now,” he said. “It’s where everybody wants to be.”

Branch Manager Tom Matera who oversees AnnieMac Home Mortgage’s newest branch on North 5th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue agreed.

“To do business in Philly, you have to have an office in Philly. People want to know you know the neighborhood and you know what’s going on,” he said.

The former warehouse also allowed him to be creative with the space, and to focus on making the office more like the coffee shops many agents preferred to work from.

“We decided we wanted to be like Starbucks or La Colombe.”

Ostroff’s space is approximately 11,000 square feet – much of which is open-concept. It includes small sitting areas geared toward the kinds of collaborations he says results in deals.

Like many other employers, he said the space is meant to evoke a Silicon Valley atmosphere. Meeting areas are reserved via iPads and Apple TVs are present in every conference room. Now the space is a hub for the agents who work there as well as the ones who attend monthly training sessions.

Health Union designed its Bailey Building space with public-facing activities in mind as well, installing bleachers for town hall events like the ones it hosted for Philly Tech Week last year.

“The space plays a role in our culture,” Armand said.

He said features like custom furniture and art lend themselves to attracting the right hires.

“It’s a point of differentiation for us when going to hire people,” he said. “The type of culture that we’re trying to create, the kind of people we’re trying to attract are going to be drawn to a Center City location.”

Among the elements appealing to the millennial population he said the company seems to attract are proximity to public transportation and other cultural attractions.

Starke said Think Company employees were similar in that regard.

“A lot of the folks who want to work for a company like ours, they’re dug into the city in a great way,” he said. “They want to live there and they want to work there.”

At Slalom, Loftus said about half the employees live in Philadelphia, but all of them like taking advantage of the city’s amenities.

“They like the ability to walk to the office or hop on the bus and have a really quick trip,” she said.

Pouppirt said Clemens employees have a sense of obligation that working in the city brings.

“Ultimately it’s about making the city a better place. There’s a definite feeling of pride and identity for the city of Philadelphia,” she said.