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PHILADELPHIA-”It is ludicrous that we’ve not exploited our opportunity to be marketed as an international city,” David Binswanger, president and chief executive officer of locally based-Binswanger/CBB, tells more than 100 area commercial real estate executives at a property opportunities seminar at the Union League this month. “Would Europeans rather be in Philadelphia or in Triangle Park, North Carolina? Europeans love cities.”

Binswanger cites Philadelphia’s ethnically diverse population, including “a huge French-speaking community,” and easy access to three international airports–BWI, Newark and Philadelphia International–among its advantages.

“We stand up well in the northeast megalopolis between New York and DC,” he adds. “We have first class cultural institutions and very advantageous housing and commercial rental rates.”

The cost of living in Center City is less than half that of Manhattan, says Paul Levy, executive director of Center City District. The Manhattan equivalent of a $60,000 annual salary in Philadelphia is $122,620, according to a 2002 CCD study.

Office property rental rates in Philadelphia compare equally favorably, according to comparison data complied for CCD by Grubb & Ellis. Office rental rates in Philadelphia average $27.56 per sf, compared with $41.65 per sf in Washington DC, $43.48 per sf in Downtown Manhattan, and $65.15 per sf in Midtown Manhattan.

“Our drawbacks are education and healthcare,” Binswanger says. “People will not make Philadelphia a choice until more money is invested in the public schools. While we have more teaching hospitals than anyone, which should make us a Silicon Valley of international pharmaceutical and biotech companies, we’re driving doctors out of the city. Healthcare costs and doctor liability insurance are bad everywhere, but worse here.”

“We need to lay out a framework to attract pharmaceuticals and biotechs and make them stay as their companies merge,” says Jerry Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of Newton Square, PA-based Brandywine Realty Trust.

From a retail perspective, Joseph Coradino, executive vice president of Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, says “the only thing we lack is a fashion shopping opportunity, such as Michigan Avenue in Chicago and Fifth Avenue in New York.

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