Ground was broken for Comcast’s skyline-altering building roughly five years back, and I became instantly convinced that Philadelphia was watching a testament of fiscal humiliation, a tangible sign that America’s birthplace would soon go the way of Detroit, rising before our very eyes. Answering the question “why” wasn’t immediately clear; I just knew three bits of trivia.
One, Western Union built a new skyscraper headquarters a year before the society-altering telephone patent passed. Two, AT&T did so as well before breeding the Baby Bells that’d strip its landline-prowess away. And three, finally, Time Warner set up new corporate digs before entering into an AOL merger that surely entered Wharton School textbooks as the business world’s “Ishtar.”
Granted, few could even begin to explain the world’s almost-daily evolution. One day, we start fielding work e-mails on our phones while we’re still in our pajamas; another day, our children speak what sounds like a foreign language. So, when I made that Kelly Drive jaunt downtown in the mornings, Comcast’s aesthetic reach grew taller and taller from a site offering a tax break, but my eye could never pick out the “How does this end badly?” wrinkle until this week, when I saw a huge-chinned comedian lay the groundwork.
Ioperate on gut feelings and research, not an MBA, but here’s how I interpret Comcast’s “no comment” approach to NBC’s Leno/O’Brien Diss Off: “This is what we’re loading up the Roberts’ Brinks Trucks for? Can we at least discuss backing out? Christ, even Carson’s old show is a mess, what’ll USA Network be like?!” To me, a former NBC exec hypothesizing that being purchased by a cable company is “the way out” for America’s one-time beacon of broadcasting excellence means the ponies will stop delivering telegrams very, very soon.
All of which leads back to one very important question: Will our hometown cable-and-Internet behemoth follow suit by boasting about its new HQ only to see an ill-fated merger take it out within a decade? Hopefully, for Center City’s sake, history is no guide. While 58-story testaments may look good in photographs, historically and unexpectedly, they’re ugly for the bottom line.
— Brian Hickey is a freelance journalist living in East Falls.
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