Liberty has a reputation for working in a deliberate manner. After acquiring the 1700 block of JFK in 2000, it hired Robert A.M. Stern Architects to create a master plan for the block.
The project was conceived as a Rockefeller Center-like ensemble with a tall tower bookended by Suburban Station and a 17-story tower at 18th and JFK. It wasn't until 2005 that Liberty signed Comcast to be the main tenant in the tower. Any campus that Liberty might build for Comcast would be more than a decade in the making.
It was always assumed that Comcast would eventually occupy the lower building at the corner. But now some real estate experts believe the 17-story building would be too small for Comcast's needs.
More than a year ago, Liberty retained the Philadelphia architecture firm KieranTimberlake to design a 25-story speculative office tower at 19th and Arch. Although at least one tenant expressed interest in leasing space, Liberty abruptly pulled the project off the market a few months ago. Gattuso said that Liberty wanted to rethink its strategy.
In the last few days, sources say, the volume of chatter about Comcast's plans has increased significantly.
On Tuesday, Bradley Maule, a writer for Hidden City Philadelphia, wrote that Foster would be hired to design a new tower for Comcast. A winner of architecture's coveted Pritzker Prize, Foster is known for designing skyscrapers that flaunt their technology, including London's bullet-shaped Swiss Re tower, known as the "Gherkin," and New York's faceted Hearst Tower.
Gattuso has been courting Foster for years, and recently took him on a tour of the Navy Yard, where Liberty has erected five low-rise office buildings since 2006.
Paul Levy, president of the Center City District, a downtown improvement organization, said new Comcast offices would be a "huge positive" because Center City has been standing still for years. He estimated the square footage of office space is the same now as it was in 1990.