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PHILADELPHIA-Center City office employment has contracted by 15% since 1990, according to a new study by Center City District, and the development corporation has formulated a strategy for reversing the trend. As is typical of CCD, the strategy is steeped in data. This time, however, it has also backed its data with tools to help implement the strategy.

Acknowledging that important long-term strategies, such as more competitive tax policies and better public transit, are vital, CCD sets forth a short-term fix “to help fill vacancies caused by contraction and by firms locating to new tax-exempt buildings,” says Paul Levy, CCD president. He urges Center City office owners and brokers “to focus now on the many growing regional firms with no presence in the city” and suggest they consider expansion or branch offices Downtown.

Typical commuting costs fall from an estimated $6,890 a year to $1,613 a year for employees who use public transportation at the discounted cost available to companies that buy passes in bulk and to zero for employees who walk to work. Earlier CCD studies have shown unequivocally, Levy says, that the primary lure to living downtown “is the ability to walk to work.”

The CCD’s online calculator allows companies to compare the cost of locating in Center City or the suburbs. It contains a database of available office space in Center City, searchable by location, price or square footage. Companies can input their specifications and compare costs by per-sf rental rate and by employee. The savings employees obtain from reduced commutation costs can more than offset the city’s wage tax.

“The extraordinary housing boom is not a bubble that’s easily burst,” Levy says. He believes empty nesters and others will sustain it for several years to come. Yet, fundamentally, it “is sustainable only so long as Center City remains a competitive place for professionals to work.”

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