Overbuilds: A Cost-Effective Solution for Philadelphia’s Booming Construction Industry

For years, overbuilds have been a popular building trend in major cities like New York. Recently, overbuilds have taken Philadelphia by storm; from major projects like 2400 Market (Aramark’s new headquarters) and The Beacon @ 1529 Walnut to The Hamilton, a student housing project for the Community College of Philadelphia built over an existing garage. These projects-are drastically changing Center City’s landscape, since they’ve proven to be a cost-effective way to re-gain lost development space on valuable real estate.

But why overbuilds and why now?

Overbuild is the technique used to add extra stories on top of an existing building. This could be anything from transforming a vacant office building like 2040 Market into a sleek mixed-use facility or adding extra floors on top of an existing parking garage, like The Hamilton project.

Considering that Philadelphia is in midst of a construction and commercial real estate boom, it’s not surprising that this method of adding real estate is becoming popular amongst developers. As New York’s more affordable neighbor, Philadelphia has seen a surge in Millennials with no sign of stopping. As the population and workforce grows, developers are increasingly looking for ways to maximize their construction efforts.

The overbuild technique is one of the best in the industry for accomplishing this goal.

Philadelphia is known for its rich history, but some of its older existing infrastructure is either out-of-date, too small for the current demand, or uninhabitable. Repurposing stale real estate at a prime location is one of the key reasons to consider an overbuild.

The overall goal of overbuilding is to maximize the development area per square foot of the parcel (FAR). This can be done by utilizing as much of the existing building as possible (and adding extra support where needed). Since no demolition is required, these projects tend to have a quicker turn around, although the timeframe does rely heavily on the number of additional floors as well as the strength and health of the existing structure. Philadelphia’s older stout manufacturing facilities lend themselves well to overbuilds.

While overbuilding has many benefits, there is no “set” procedure since each project is unique.

While overbuilds are gaining in popularity in Philadelphia’s real estate market, it takes careful planning and execution to be done properly.

Oftentimes, the buildings in question are either older, with varying degrees of usability, or currently partially occupied, meaning that any overbuild construction needs to be considerate of the existing tenant’s needs below.

The Harman Group team saw many of these challenges when completing a recent overbuild of 1529 Walnut in Center City Philadelphia (known as the Beacon) with Under Armor fit-out and move in below. The structure had significant column deterioration that needed to be reinforced during construction.

Using a new 14 story addition directly adjacent to the existing building, wind loads were transferred to the new construction. The Haman Group effectively added 6 stories on top of the existing structure. Set to open in summer of 2017, The Beacon is already accepting reservations for apartments.

Currently, The Harman Group is currently working on overbuilds for 2400 Market, 1529 Walnut (The Beacon)  and The Hamilton.

By Jan Vacca