PHILADELPHIA-With leases for 374,000 sf, or more than half of Cira Centre’s planned office space, Plymouth Meeting, PA-based Brandywine Realty Trust will go forward with construction of the 28-story landmark. Locally based law firms Dechert LLP and Woodcock Washburn LLP ink for 245,000 sf and 109,000 sf, respectively. Attalus Capital, a private equity firm, signs for another 20,000 sf and will relocate its headquarters from Plymouth Meeting.

Brandywine expects to break ground “soon,” according to a statement and reach completion in fourth quarter 2005. The building is designed by Argentine architect Cesar Pelli, best known for Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur. In addition to 690,000 sf of office space, Cira Centre will contain 37,000 sf of space for retail, conference areas and other amenities.

It will be located adjacent to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station in University City, anchoring Center City to the west and creating a bridge between University City and the traditional CBD. Amtrak owns the land and Brandywine holds a 99-year lease. When Cira Centre was announced 18 months ago, construction costs were estimated at between $150 million and $170 million.

The largest leases create significant vacancies in Center City. Dechert will move from about 225,000 sf in Bell Atlantic Tower at 1717 Arch St., and Woodcock Washburn will exit its 80,000 sf in One Liberty Place at 1650 Market. Radnor, PA-based Tactix Real Estate Advisors represented Dechert and Woodcock Washburn in the lease negotiations. GVA Mack’s Center City office represented Attalus Capital.

According to published reports, all of the leases are for 15 years. Rental rates are undisclosed. When Cira Centre was announced, Gerard H. Sweeney, Brandywine’s president and CEO, was quoted as saying that rents would be “competitive with stay-put rates,” estimated in the range of $30 to $35 per sf. Cira Centre is a designated Keystone Opportunity Zone, which forgives tenants’ state and city taxes until 2013.

With 50% occupancy sewed up, Cira Centre seems to lead in the race to be the first new office building constructed in Philadelphia in a decade. Not yet out of the running, however, is One Pennsylvania Plaza, a 57-story, 1.25-million-sf tower planned for 18th St. and JFK Blvd. by Malvern, PA-based Liberty Property Trust. Although Liberty has yet to announce any preleasing, brokers tell it is courting prime Center City tenants, such as Comcast, with leases nearing expiration.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ed Rendell has asked the state general assembly to give the Liberty parcel KOZ status. This has prompted an outcry among owners of existing office properties, who vow to fight the expansion of KOZ status and other subsidies. They argue that government is, in effect “sponsoring” an increased office vacancy rate and eroding rental rates.

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