This month we sat down with Paul Commito, Vice President of Development, Brandywine Realty Trust and Chair for Mission Advancement (CMA) for ULI Philadelphia. Paul shares his thoughts on what makes ULI special, feedback from the recent Spring Meeting and why people don’t want to drive anymore.
How did you get your start in real estate?
It’s an interesting business – it’s not like you learn how to be a real estate developer in high school or college. I started on the brokerage side in the 80’s working on condo conversions and then land assemblages. I realized I wanted more out of the process. So I approached a developer who ended up hiring me and the rest is history.
How would colleagues describe you?
I hope they would describe me as collaborative and receptive. I’m focused on the success of the project. It’s about getting it done, not who gets credit.
As Chair for Mission Advancement, how do you see ULI fitting into the current real estate landscape?
One of the reasons I am such an advocate for ULI is that the missions of Brandywine Realty Trust and ULI are very similar. We both focus on urban issues and utilizing best practices to create special environments that are transformative. There are a lot of competing organizations that make noise, but ULI has a higher purpose. It’s not just flash and marketing, but substantive work – creating real neighborhoods and great places. I’m laser-focused on brand identity and brand extension – especially through social media – to make the ULI brand more relatable to people of all ages and demographics. We want to see increased membership, giving, and resources with both talent, time and money.
Tell us a little about the vision behind Cira Centre South.
This project is Philadelphia’s first vertical neighborhood at 1 million square feet, with over 620,000 square feet of office, 300,000 square feet of residential, 25,000 square feet of amenities, plus restaurants, retail and Philadelphia’s first elevated park. When I think about best practices in urban land development, this project encapsulates it all. It’s a great example of TOD with immediate access to Amtrak and SEPTA with an efficient footprint of less than one acre of land. We’re literally using that one acre parcel and building a structure that is 25 times the land area. We’re also targeting LEED Gold – all of the construction materials and building systems are top quality and designed for operational efficiency: high performance curtainwall; low use of water in plumbing fixtures; storm water management best practices, etc. Plus, we have door-to-door luxury services and amenities you won’t find anywhere else. You could literally live there, commute by elevator, eat dinner and go home without leaving the building.
Are vertical neighborhoods the future?
People don’t want to drive. It’s incredible how much more productive we are becoming by reducing our commute. Technology and multi-modal forms of transportation play a big part in that, but so does urban land use — creating spaces that are live-work-play where you don’t have to get in a car to commute to work.
Brandywine played an integral role as ICON sponsor in this year’s Spring Meeting in Philadelphia. Where there any surprises?
I wasn’t surprised; I was delighted. The level of national engagement was eye-opening. People really didn’t see Philadelphia as a world-class city until the Spring Meeting exposed them to it. What really brought me joy was the level of uniformly phenomenal feedback – literally shock and awe — about how great our city is. It was really rewarding to get such positive feedback on projects like evo, FMC Tower, Cira Centre and many others – where developers have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears to create transformative city spaces.