The Top 5 Real Estate Stories of 2016

We still don't know what Toll others' proposed mixed-use tower on Jewelers Row will look like, but we do know its facade won't look like this, and that has the city's preservation community up in arms. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

We still don’t know what Toll others’ proposed mixed-use tower on Jewelers Row will look like, but we do know its facade won’t look like this, and that has the city’s preservation community up in arms. | Photo: Oscar Beisert

As we close the book on 2016, let’s take a look back at the year in real estate and development. What were the stories that got people’s attention this year? Here are our picks:

Toll Brothers goes tall on Jewelers Row and sets off a preservation fight.

A few years ago, Toll Brothers, the Horsham-based luxury home builder, decided to enter the urban development game with its City Living division. Urbanist critics loved to fault the builder’s Philadelphia projects for their notable lack of urban features like density and mixed uses. So when the company announced it wanted to build an apartment tower with street-level retail in Philadelphia, everyone cheered, right? Wrong, because the tower would replace three buildings on historic Jewelers Row. The fight to preserve the buildings pitted the preservation community against just about all of the property owners on the 700 block of Sansom Street, who see the apartment tower as giving their businesses a shot in the arm from a ready-made customer base. (Or so it appeared from the testimony delivered to the Philadelphia Historical Commission in September, when it opted to punt on the issue of preserving the endangered buildings. The Jewelers Row merchants who appeared at this month’s Washington Square West Civic Association Zoning Committee meeting sang a different tune altogether.) Toll can build this project by right under the lot’s zoning, but Toll has indicated it wants to work with the community to shape a project everyone could live with. Right now, it looks like that project has yet to emerge. Read more »

ThinkFest Recap: Allan Domb’s Three Steps to Righting the City’s Finances

Screen Shot 2016-11-15 at 5.05.45 PM

On Tuesday afternoon, City Councilman and real estate man Allan Domb took to the stage at Philly Mag’s ThinkFest to do what he does best: talk about municipal finance.

Anyone who knows Domb knows that he’s laser-focused on a few key things that he believes will help fix the city’s budget and lift Philadelphians out of poverty. A veteran of the real estate industry, Domb often compares the City of Philadelphia to a $4 billion business. On Tuesday, he played his greatest hits. Read more »

Jawdropper of the Week: The Golden Touch in Wash West

1101 Locust St. #7F, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107 | Photos via Allan Domb Real Estate

1101 Locust St. #7F, Philadelphia, Pa. 19107 | Photos via Allan Domb Real Estate

They say money can’t buy you love, but this stunning apartment proves that all wrong. Soaring high above the streets of Washington Square West, this week’s Jawdropper is located in the luxurious Western Union Building, and truly no detail was spared in the creation of this masterpiece.

Entering the foyer, you’re not only greeted with the killer views that grace almost every room in the apartment, but you’re also met with views into the office and open-plan main living area. If you look down, you’ll also notice the custom-made greige maple chevron floors that continue throughout the apartment.

Moving from the foyer into the kitchen area, you’ll notice that this is no ordinary kitchen. Every detail in this kitchen is custom made and top of the line, from the floor-to-ceiling Teknika maple cabinetry to the Calacatta marble countertops and waterfall island. Read more »

Teamsters to Pro-Soda Tax Lawmakers: No More Campaign Money For You

FILE - In this Wednesday, June 8, 2016 file photo, opponents of a proposed sugary drink tax demonstrate outside City Hall in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is set to become the first major American city with a soda tax despite a multimillion-dollar campaign by the beverage industry to block it. The City Council is expected to give final approval Thursday, June 16, 2016, to a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

On June 8th, 2016, the Teamsters and other critics of the soda tax demonstrated outside of City Hall. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

What do special interest groups want for their campaign donations? Are they looking for favors, access, or just a sympathetic ear? Most of the time, voters can only speculate (and worry) about the answers to those questions. But every so often, someone pulls back the curtain and lets us see the world of political giving with our own eyes.

On June 17th, Teamsters Local 830 secretary-treasurer Danny Grace sent a strongly worded letter to several Council members who voted to enact a soda tax earlier this month. In it, he lambasted lawmakers for supporting “Mayor Kenney’s regressive, discriminatory and likely unconstitutional Beverage Tax.” Grace, whose union represents soda bottlers and truck drivers, wrote that he told Council members time and time again that “this unfair tax that targets only one industry would be ruinous to the Teamsters, leading to the loss of thousands of family-sustaining jobs.” And then he informed them, pretty bluntly, that Teamsters Local 830 wouldn’t be giving them any more campaign money.

“Throughout your time on City Council, the Teamsters have been proud to support you, both with financial contributions and feet on the street during every election cycle,” said Grace. “As a result of your vote to support a regressive, discriminatory tax that will decimate my local and other Teamsters locals in the region that rely on a healthy beverage industry for work, we cannot in good conscience continue to offer you any support whatsoever going forward.” Read more »

Council’s Resident Realtor Just Voted Against a Tax Hike on Real Estate Sales

Photo of Allan Domb in the lobby of Parc Rittenhouse by Laura Kicey Read more at http://www.phillymag.com/tag/allan-domb/#yov81b2TdtFSVoOi.99

Allan Domb in the lobby of Parc Rittenhouse. | Photo by Laura Kicey

A City Council committee voted 6-2 on Thursday to approve a small increase in the real estate transfer tax, which is levied when houses and other properties are sold.

The proposal was introduced on behalf of City Council President Darrell Clarke. Clarke wants the city to sell a $100 million bond and put the proceeds toward the Basic Systems Repair Program, which helps fix heating and plumbing systems for low-income homeowners, as well as a new program that makes low-cost loans for home repairs to middle-income homeowners. Revenue from the .1 percent increase to the transfer tax that the committee approved on Thursday would be used to pay down the debt on that bond.

Councilman Allan Domb, a Philadelphia realtor who earned the nickname of “Condo King” in the years before he ran for office, voted against the proposal on Thursday, saying he thinks the city should be able to find money for the Basic Systems Repair Program without raising a tax. Of course, it’s a tax that affects realtors more than many others. Read more »

Op-Ed: Why Philly Should Expand the Property Tax Abatement

Photo by Jared Piper/Courtesy of City Council's Flickr

Photo by Jared Piper/Courtesy of City Council’s Flickr

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from guest writer Allan Domb. Domb is a City Councilman as well as a longtime realtor and developer in Philadelphia.)

Earlier this month, a surprisingly critical op-ed was written about my proposal to extend the current property tax abatement from 10 years to 20 years for properties valued at $250,000 and under. The criticism was surprising because it failed to mention how successful the current abatement program has been for Philadelphia’s economy, both from a development and revenue-generating standpoint — for every $1 abated, the city receives $2 from other revenue sources over the life of the abatement.

Perhaps this criticism was so strong because I have not fully explained the proposal, which I intend to do through a variety of outreach efforts. In fact, I have already started doing this by meeting with interested parties to address all concerns. With that said, let me explain it. Read more »

Insider: Allan Domb’s Truly Awful Idea

Photo by Jared Piper/Courtesy of City Council's Flickr

Councilman Allan Domb | Photo by Jared Piper/Courtesy of City Council’s Flickr

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.) 

Many Philadelphians cheered real estate developer Allan Domb’s election to City Council last year. Finally, they said, a real businessman who could bring innovative, market-savvy solutions to our city’s economic problems.

But those lofty hopes fell to earth with a dull thud when Domb introduced his first major piece of legislation: a bill to double the 10-year residential tax abatement to 20 years for houses worth $250,000 or less. It seems great on the surface, but it’s actuality a terrible idea.

Domb claims this expanded tax break on new home construction and major rehabs will encourage developers to build houses in struggling neighborhoods, and lead owners of blighted properties to fix them up.

It’s a laudable goal, one we all should support. But his proposal won’t actually further that goal, and will cost us precious tax dollars to boot. Domb’s plan will fail because it’s based on a misunderstanding about how the abatement works — a misunderstanding that’s shocking given his reputation as a real estate mogul. Read more »

Insider: How to Incentivize Development In Philly’s Overlooked Neighborhoods

The Paseo Verde complex alongside SEPTA’s Temple University Station is an example of what great transit-oriented development can look like in Philadelphia. | Photo by Ariel Ben-Amos

The Paseo Verde complex alongside SEPTA’s Temple University Station is an example of what great transit-oriented development can look like in Philadelphia. | Photo by Ariel Ben-Amos

(This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Last week, Councilman and Condo King Allan Domb went public with a proposal to double the city’s controversial tax abatement from 10 to 20 years for properties worth less than $250,000. Domb points out that developers have not invested in neighborhoods in North Philly, West Philly and Southwest Philly the way they have in Greater Center City, and he thinks his legislation will change that.

Whether or not you agree with his proposed solution, it’s undeniable that the problem he identified needs to be fixed. Many Philadelphians are worried — rightly — that they will miss out on the massive growth of Greater Center City. These are residents who are isolated from downtown amenities, as well as those who have been driven out of their former homes by rising housing costs.

But there’s a better way to spur development in outlying neighborhoods than to expand the city’s expensive tax abatement.

Here’s how: The state’s General Assembly should pass Senate Bill 385. It wouldn’t even threaten the school district’s budget the way Domb’s proposal could.

I’ll explain how the bill would work in a second. But first, a history lesson: In 2004, the state legislature sought to support transit-oriented development by passing legislation that allowed SEPTA and the city to forge a partnership that could float bonds in order to help pay for upgrades at transportation stations — and then letting the pair pay back the bonds with the additional real estate taxes that are generated by any improvements made.

These enhancements can include new lights, rehabbed sidewalks and even environmental remediation work. The idea is that by making a train station more accessible or cleaning up a dirty site, a developer will be more apt to build there.

Senate Bill 385 is an update to this law, and it does two things that would be particularly good for Philadelphia. Read more »

Lawmakers Fight for Muslim Holidays to Be Recognized in Philly

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

A group of activists erupted in applause at City Hall Thursday when lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution calling on the city and school district to recognize two Muslim holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. “When we submitted this, the question that came from some good, well-intentioned people was, ‘Well, why now? And should we do this now?'” said Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., who sponsored the legislation. “The best time to dispel myths, the best time to find good-spirited people, is in the height of controversy.”

The Philadelphia Eid Coalition has been fighting since last year to convince officials to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The School District of Philadelphia currently closes schools on Christmas, Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and even Columbus Day, but not on those two Muslim holidays. The city government, meanwhile, does not officially recognize either Muslim or Jewish holy days.

Jones, who practices Islam, says it is more important than ever to make Muslim people feel included in Philadelphia.

“Young people needed to know that they’re welcome in this building and in this city,” he said, “so that nobody can come along and lead them astray to some anti-American kind of environment.” Read more »

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