ASK THE CITIZENS of Philadelphia to pinpoint the movers and shakers behind University City’s renaissance in the past decade — a renaissance that’s seen houses refurbished and restaurants opened, an elementary school built and real live families moving in, and home prices that jumped from an average of $70,000 to more than $300,000 — and you’re likely to hear three names right off the bat: former Penn president Judy Rodin, her former vice president, John Fry, and planning visionary Omar Blaik.
Today, though, the man who’s been as much a part of the revival as any of them is sitting inside his windowless office at 41st and Walnut. Construction din from a workshop behind his office seeps through the adjoining wall. Behind the desk hangs, not a Rembrandt, but a loud Perry Milou painting of West Philly. Next-door neighbors? The brothers of Penn’s Alpha Epsilon Pi. Sometimes on early mornings, you get to see the walks of shame from the frat house.
But don’t let the just-average offices fool you: David Adelman, president and CEO of Campus Apartments, knows something about real estate. In fact, a dozen years after he and Penn began their West Philly experiment — partnering to give kids decent places to live — Campus Apartments is now the largest student housing provider in the City of Philadelphia, with a footprint of about two million square feet. And with properties in 50 other college towns around the country, Campus has become the largest privately owned student housing company in the nation.
“Schools have three problems: They don’t have enough housing, the housing they have is obsolete, and they just don’t know how to think about real estate properly,” says Adelman. “Student housing is a niche, and it takes a special concentration to do it.”
How did Adelman, who’s still just 36, do it? Through a combination of being in the right place at the right time, and understanding the market. In the case of student housing, the market is really about parents, who are generally footing the bill. A decade ago, all parents wanted was someplace clean and free of rats. Today, a new generation of parents intent on pampering their kids is looking for luxe places filled with high-speed Internet access, intercom systems, Xbox rooms and gyms — and Adelman is providing them. The man who helped revolutionize University City is rewriting the blueprints for student housing at campuses across the country.