Property Profiles is a series highlighting the people who have defined the Greater Philadelphia area and continue to chart its future–from established developers with numerous projects behind them to young visionaries who are just starting out to under-the-radar players who get everything done. Have someone you’d like to see featured? Send us an email and let us know!
This week Property Philly spoke with Condo King Allan Domb. He earned the nicknamed because of his real estate brokerage firm, which handles luxury condo sales in buildings like the Barclay, the Dorchester, the Philadelphian, Society Hill Towers and Wanamaker House. He’s also become a developer and an influential voice in Center City’s evolution.
We spoke with him primarily in his role as president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors (GPAR) but also asked about some of his forthcoming plans, including micro-apartments in Rittenhouse and condos on 13th Street.
On his second term as GPAR president:
“Back in 1990 I was the youngest president. Now I’m the oldest president.”
Domb was inaugurated for his second term of the real estate group in January. When he was first president, Domb said high interest rates made for tough times in the industry. He said he’s been asked to serve again to bring the group through another difficult era now that AVI and other tax-related issues have come to a head.
On AVI and real estate taxes:
“There is nothing more important on GPAR’s agenda than getting to 1 percent.”
GPAR’s formal position is in support of AVI as long as each property is “assessed fairly and uniformly.” The group recognizes that “up to a third of the values are inaccurate, but this is a starting point,” he said.
In contrast to Mayor Nutter’s recommended tax rate of 1.32 percent, GPAR suggests 1 percent, equating to $250 million less in taxes for the city. But GPAR has proposed a plan to make up for that shortfall: Recover about $174 million through tax lien sales, and sell off some of the remaining $500 million-plus in delinquencies to recover an additional $80 million a year for the next three years.
In addition, the group has suggested that the city employ a third-party collector to begin making a dent in back taxes. Domb’s own office hired an outside collector, he says, because it’s easier to find the money when it’s a not a friend asking you for it. “City Council and the mayor have to have the will to collect the money,” he said.
On GPAR’s other plans for saving the city:
“GPAR is the voice for real estate. We now recognize that we have to be the voice for Philadelphia.”
Domb said GPAR believes “drastic measures” must be taken in Philadelphia to do a better job of collecting taxes, to create jobs and to hold onto college graduates. Among the group’s plans to stop the brain drain? A 10-year tax abatement on all taxes except those related to real estate for graduates of local colleges and universities who start Philly businesses and live in the city. “We need to raise the bar of smart people in Philadelphia.”
Domb said the group has already spoken to Penn about establishing classes in which students learn about and analyze the systems of city government. Then GPAR would host an annual event to connect the students who have the best ideas with City Council and the mayor. The outreach will be extended to Drexel and Temple as well.
The group is also proposing a program that would allow homeowners who live directly adjacent to vacant lots to buy the lots for $100 or less. Domb said doing so will raise that homeowner’s property value and will protect the block from blight-related value depreciation. Domb says the lots now cost the city an estimated $20 million per year in upkeep–“it’s like a new definition of insanity.”
On his mysterious project on the site of the former Full Moon Saloon:
“You always do well when you buy the Volkswagon on the nice block.”
Domb is tight-lipped regarding the ground-floor restaurant/bar space at 131 S. 13th Street. The liquor license attached to the building originally listed Domb’s name but it now lists HipCityVeg owner Nicole Marquis. Domb himself would only say, “There are lots of possibilities.” One definite: There will be six condos on the floors above. They’ll be making the conversion over the next six months or so.
On micro-apartments in Rittenhouse:
“It’s a fun project. Who knows? It could be a flop.”
Domb purchased a townhouse at 1955 Locust Street and has been converting it to nine micro-apartments. How micro? Between 380 and 425 square feet. He said he wanted to respond to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s challenge to New York developers and develop ultra-small living spaces in Philadelphia. He said the apartments will feature high-end finishes and their own in-unit washers and dryers. Rent will run between $1,500 and $1,700 a month.
On another new, unnamed project:
“It’s a slow process.”
Domb has been snapping up properties on the north side of the 1800 block of Walnut Street for some time. He wouldn’t comment on the nature of the project but said he spent 13 years developing the side of Rittenhouse Square where the Barclay and Parc now sit. “The whole area is different, now,” he said. “For the next 10 to 15 years, where do I want to turn my focus to? The north side.” He said the city could see a new retail area but that the project will probably take between three and seven years to roll out.