The Story of the American Commerce Center, Once Planned as Philadelphia’s Tallest Tower

American Commerce Center rendering via Kohn Pendersen FoxAmerican Commerce Center rendering via Kohn Pendersen Fox

During the construction of the first Comcast Center tower, many wondered whether the 975-foot-tall skyscraper would rank as the city’s tallest for much longer. Just a few months before the former’s topping out, details were released about the American Commerce Center at 1800 Arch Street, a proposal that stunned many development watchers with its 1,510-foot height. The project was being developed by Hill International Real Estate Partners and designed by Kohn Pendersen Fox, a firm that is also behind the 792-foot-tall Mellon Bank Center, currently the city’s fifth-tallest building, and Arthaus, a 542-foot-tall skyscraper currently under construction. The development was ultimately canceled and the 1,121-foot-tall Comcast Technology Center was built at the site.

The tower’s angled roof would have risen to a height of 1,210 feet, topped with a sharp spire resembling a rondel dagger. The development would have counted 63 floors, with a program consisted of retail and office space, as well as a 26-story hotel planned in the 473-foot-tall podium to the east of the main tower. The structure would have consisted of a concrete core with steel slabs, as suggested in plans that were presented to the city.

Philadelphia skyline without American Commerce Center. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline without American Commerce Center. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking north. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking north. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking northwest from New Jersey. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking northwest from New Jersey. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking northeast. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking northeast. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking northeast. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking southeast. Photo by Thomas Koloski

Philadelphia skyline with the American Commerce Center looking southeast. Photo by Thomas Koloski

The main tower would have sat on the west side of the site, farther away from the Comcast Center than the Comcast Technology Center currently stands. The west face was to be flush with the property line along 18th Street, with floor plates being nearly square. In 2008 things looked good for the project. Around the time of the opening of the Comcast Center, zoning was being amended around 18th and Arch streets, paving the way for construction. The City Planning Commission unanimously approved the building in December.

Unfortunately, the tower still had no anchor tenant and lacked funding. The project was officially dead as of August 2011 when Liberty Property Trust purchased the lot from the original developers for $40 million, leading to the construction of the Comcast Technology Center, which was officially completed in 2018.

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5 Comments on "The Story of the American Commerce Center, Once Planned as Philadelphia’s Tallest Tower"

  1. This would have been a much better addition to the skyline than the Comcast Technology Center with its stubby spire.

    FYI – I believe the Comcast Technology Center was completed in 2018 and not 2014, 2014 was when construction began.

  2. Thanks for showing us the complete history of the ACC and helping me us understand the building was planned to be built on the present site of the Comcast Technology Center

    I believe the recession of 2008 helped kill the project. I am sure that Hill INTL had intended to snare Comcast as the lead tenant of ACC only to be rebuffed by Comcast who preferred to buy property with Liberty Property Trust than deal with Hill. I am sure Hill targeted local law firms as tenants, but the firm’s were laying off staff due to the recession.

    Nevertheless, Comcast bought the land with Liberty and built their second trophy building. We are still waiting for Comcast to build the rumored third building. Maybe they will buy the red bricked tower as the third building to be closer to their other buildings

    When you jump out of a plane and open your parachute, look for the ghost of ACC and its dagger spire!

    • Just wanted to respond why the ACC was never built. The real reason why the ACC was never built had a lot more to do with the 2008 recession. Had the 2008 recession killed the ACC, it would’ve never lasted three years until 2011, when Hill International decided to sell the parking lot to the former Liberty Property Trust. The main reason why the ACC never got built was because of NIMBYisn thanks to the old (and decrepit) neighbors that lived in the Sterling and Kennedy House, cronyism and corruption thanks to Vince Fumo and the city of Philadelphia, and the Commonwealth of PA, as well as the fact that the ACC couldn’t even secure a major tenant despite being heavily financed by a private pension fund.

      Even with the NIMBYism and corruption, there were a lot of suitable tenants at the time (GSK, TD Bank, Sunoco, Lincoln Financial, Black Rock) that could’ve inhabited that tower, but somehow someway and strangely enough, it never happened and when the summer of 2011 came by, Hill International sold the lot the LPT and three years later, the CITC was proposed and approved with little to no opposition from the NIMBYs, the city, or the state. We’re essentially a one-company town nowadays. All the other companies such as Sunoco, CIGNA, GSK and Sovereign/Santander moved to other cities, Pepboys and Rohm & Haas got acquired by other companies (Icahn and Dow, respectively), and Crown Holdings and Lincoln Financial moved to the suburbs.

      If you ask me, the ACC was a superior project compared to the CITC because of the possibility of either retaining or attracting a major company here as well as the flawless design, the height, and the amenities. The CITC is uninspiring, lackadaisical, and very frigid. I liked how Liberty Place evoked the Art Deco of the Chrysler Building, and the Mellon Building was topped with a pyramid, and the other buildings such as the IBX and the Cira 1 & 2 (FMC Tower), but the CITC is more Neo-Brutalist than Modernist to me. What could’ve been of the skyline (and the local economy) had the ACC been built instead of the ugly CITC…

  3. Luke Skywalker | February 10, 2021 at 7:06 pm | Reply

    This tower would’ve been an symbol to Philadelphia the way that the Liberty Bell, City Hall, and the Art Museum are already symbols to the city. It’s such a shame that this beautiful tower was never erected and instead the ugly and atrocious Comcast Information Center stands in that place instead. Had the ACC been built, it would’ve not just been Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s tallest, but it would’ve been the tallest in America at 2012 prior to the topping off of the Freedom Tower (new WTC) in NYC.

    I wished that the city and state leaders could’ve seen the economic and the financial benefits of having such a tower like the ACC. This is going to be the biggest mistake and the biggest regret the city has made in it’s history by allowing the ACC to never get built, we’ll never be an economic power like NYC, Chicago, Miami, Boston, and SF, we’ll instead be doomed to second-tier cities like Portland, Denver, and Milwaukee.

  4. Maybe this could be built on 8 and Market lot..

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