Behind the Boom: The Next Wave of Philly Developers

From left: Rahil Raza, 33, founder and CEO, Raza Properties; Mo Rushdy, 37, and Lawrence McKnight, 40, co-owners, RiverWards Group; Vince Viney, 46, president and founder, V2 Properties; Jared Pontz, 37, managing partner, Elfant Pontz Properties and Direct Mortgage Loan Company; Lindsey Scannapieco, 31, managing director, Scout; Anthony Fullard, 54, Rodney Ross, 27, and James Robertson, 32, principals, AJR Endeavors. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Rahil Raza, founder and CEO, Raza Properties
Backstory: Despite graduating from Temple with a pharmacy degree, Raza, 33, decided to start a development firm in 2009. His focus is well-appointed (but affordable) single-family units in North Philly. He’s done 48 projects to date.
What’s next: Completing 55 units in Sharswood and North Francisville that will hit the market under $400,000. Read more »

The Stunning New Farmhouse on Historic Ardrossan Estate

Photography by Tom Crane | The Butler’s pantry

Set amid 14 acres of the historic Ardrossan property — former home of Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, the socialite who inspired The Philadelphia Story — is a sprawling stone farmhouse that looks like it’s been there for a century. Surprise: It’s a new build, the work of West Chester-based architecture firm Archer & Buchanan, Ltd. “Everything feels like it has layers of history and time,” says the firm’s partner and co-founder, Richard Buchanan. “It looks like a well-preserved 100-year-old house.” Read more »

Zillow Launches New Site for First-Time Homebuyers

Image courtesy of Zillow

Image courtesy of Zillow

Calling all millennials (and anyone else) on the hunt for that perfect first home: Zillow just launched a new real estate brand to help you on your search. Brace yourselves, folks, because things are about to get crazy.

RealEstate.com, Zillow’s new platform that debuted on Tuesday, allows potential homebuyers to search for homes like never before – by the monthly payment and down payment they can afford. The launch of the site comes after the 2016 Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report highlighted homebuyers are most concerned with finding a home within their budget, even more so than they are for finding a home in a safe neighborhood. Read more »

Is “Spring Arts” the Next Midtown Village?

Photograph by Charles Mostoller.

Photograph by Charles Mostoller.

That the viaduct rail park is actually becoming a thing is, well, dumb luck. In 2015, when developers Aaron Cohen and Craig Grossman set their sights on a block just north of Chinatown, they liked what the elevated rail tracks lent to the area; they were authentic and gritty in the best possible way. Now the first phase of the park is under way, and that’s a huge bonus for their audacious plans. Read more »

Is Philly Facing a Post-Millennial Rental Crash?

Illustration by Melissa McFeeters

Illustration by Melissa McFeeters

Our apartment-building engine continues to chug along. Signs of activity recently sprouted on two more construction sites: Pearl Properties’ proposed 32-story apartment tower at 1910 Chestnut, and Southern Land Company’s high-rise at 1911 Walnut. The only problem? Finding enough people who want to live in them. Welcome to the world of “post-millennial” real estate.

The prospect was floated in a January New York Times article: According to research, American cities, which for a decade have enjoyed a steady stream of young people and surges in development to house them all (see: the Griffin, 3737 Chestnut, Dalian on the Park), have reached max millennial potential. Real estate services firm JLL noted that the flow of young professionals to Philly has already slowed — a problem when you consider the flood of apartments set to hit the market. In fact, a recent Center City District report says 4,167 apartments are under construction — more than double the 1,833 that came on the market in 2016. What’s more, 75 percent of these units are set to come on line this year — three times as many as the annual average since 2010. There’s a hope that If you build it, they will come — but what happens if they don’t? Read more »

I Love My Job: Actor-Composer Turned Realtor James Sugg

James Sugg as realtor. Image courtesy of James Sugg.

James Sugg as realtor. Image courtesy of James Sugg.

Not many actors get rave reviews from the New York Times, and we’re pretty sure there’s only one such actor who now has a career in real estate.

Three years ago, Pig Iron Theatre Company‘s beloved actor-composer-sound designer of nearly two decades, James Sugg, suddenly pivoted from the alt-theater world, leaving his wildly successful and celebrated theater life behind.

How successful and celebrated was it? In 2009, Pig Iron won a prestigious Obie Award for Sugg’s performance in Chekhov Lizardbrain, “a Russian tragicomedy” about a mildly autistic botanist. A New York Times review at the time called Sugg’s performance “amazing,” “affecting,” “deeply human, simply real.” And as a composer, Sugg, who traveled the world doing theater with Pig Iron, created 17 original works including full-length musicals with the troupe. He’s racked up four Barrymore Awards for his work as a sound designer and composer. A shabby record it is not.

So what’s Sugg up to these days? He’s now a real estate agent at Space and Company, and the creative dad says he loves who he is and what’s he’s doing. Here, Sugg tells us why he made the shift and also reflects on the Philly arts scene and his time in theater.

I grew up in … Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. I lived there from first to ninth grade. My family was there for 13 years. My parents worked for the Amoco oil company.  Read more »

10 Hottest Suburban Philadelphia Towns

West Chester: The Buzzy Borough That Only Gets Better

Downtown West Chester | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Downtown West Chester | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

By the Numbers

15%

Five-year change in home value in West Chester

While planning committees around the region rush to give their downtowns the Oprah makeover treatment, West Chester only has to ponder how to improve an already vibrant borough — one with more than 65 places to eat and drink and quality independent boutiques. Volume is what’s coming next: Three new apartment complexes (including an eye-catching Eli Kahn development) have added 360 upscale residential units that are being rented by boomers and millennials alike. “The high density, the parks, the historic buildings, all the dog owners … it provides the community with neighborliness. People can’t help but know each other,” says Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District. “This is the anti-urban-sprawl community.” Buyers want in, according to realtors from around the region, who report that interest from clients across all age groups and demographics is growing. Additional attractions in the works — like a possible second hotel and the Knauer Performing Arts Center, which is giving the 100-year-old armory a second life — will only up the cultural appeal.


Media: New Retail, New Life for the Whole County

Michael Markman at the future site of West End Flats | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Michael Markman at the future site of West End Flats | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

By the Numbers

17%

One-year change in home value in Media

The formula for resurgence in Media is familiar. Step one: Add amenities downtown (five new restaurants opened last year; the many art strolls and popular holiday celebrations). Step two: Construct some new apartments that allow residents to walk to said amenities and public transportation (see the new, upscale West End Flats, which is bringing 162 apartments to State Street). Step three: Rehab dead zones (see BET Investments’ massive plan for the Granite Run Mall). Even though the latter two projects aren’t finished, this Delaware County town — which benefits from the fantastic Rose Tree Media School District and a quick commute to Center City — gets livelier each year. “We don’t have to advertise anymore, because the restaurants are full,” says Zubair Khan, of the Media Business Authority. “We draw patrons from a 10-to-20-mile radius.” It’s true: Surrounding towns are already benefiting from this newfangled Media.

How to De-Mall a Mall
The Granite Run Mall — a onetime Delco staple — is being born again. Michael Markman, president of Horsham-based BET Investments, breaks down his ambitious plan for the 88-acre property, now called the Promenade at Granite Run, set to open in 2018.

1. Add air. The walls and roof are being torn down to create an outdoor mixed-use walking community.
2. Add fun. Frank Theatres is opening a bowling alley and dine-in movie theater with a bar and nightlife events. Twelve new restaurants are being added as well.
(Parents, take note: While the kids watch the next X-Men, you can eat and drink.)
3. Add people. Four hundred luxury apartments are being constructed, with heavy landscaping and walking paths. So are offices and new stores.
4. Add services. CHOP is opening a pediatric medical facility.
5. Add transit. A shuttle will run a two-mile loop from the Promenade to West End Flats, BET’s downtown Media apartment building, so people can access both shopping districts and the train without a car.


Conshohocken: A Skyline That’s Growing for Residents, Too

Rendering of SORA West, a proposed mixed-use development | Courtesy Gensler

Rendering of SORA West, a proposed mixed-use development | Courtesy Gensler

By the Numbers

12%

Five-year change in home value in Conshohocken

Seth Lejeune, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Collegeville, says Conshohocken has “become almost a rite of passage, much like Manayunk is for younger people.” That makes sense, considering so many people are heading to jobs in the ’burbs. Conshy has easy access to all the 76s (the Expressway, the Blue Route and 276) plus regional rail, and it’s a stone’s throw from Center City. It has great schools and new hiking and biking trails, and the town leadership continues to weave in smart residential and commercial projects that add activity and density. One such skyline-altering project — to be complete by 2020 — is Keystone Property Group’s SORA West (formerly known as One Conshohocken), a proposed development on a five-acre site that has plans for two office towers, retail, outdoor dining, a rooftop lounge, green space and a hotel. It’s a block from the train station. “Conshohocken is one of the most desirable office locations in the suburbs,” says Keystone partner Richard Gottlieb. “Companies are continuing to come here. People like the opportunity to be close to work, and amenities enhance that. On Friday and Saturday nights, the streets are alive.”


Newtown: Smart and Seamless Development

By the Numbers

$352,500

Median home price in Newtown Township in 2016, up 8% in one year

Newtown Township has long been synonymous with historic country charm, which is why the yuppies flocked here in the ’80s to new developments that used to be orchards and farms. Now their offspring — as well as new arrivals — are reshaping the area again. “A lot of the changes have to do with demographics,” says Newtown native Jay Spaziano, an agent with Addison Wolfe Real Estate. While most Newtown-area residents are getting up in years, an influx of younger folk led to a 27 percent drop in the median age of Newtown Borough’s south side from 2010 to 2015. Those new arrivals — who love the lauded Council Rock school district — have a new way of living: They’re replacing older houses with more modern ones and prefer planned communities with smaller plots of land to tend to (like the Reserve at Makefield, a new Toll Brothers community). All this activity is having an effect on the town center; there’s a new condo project with retail called Steeple View on State Street, and the recently completed Promenade on Sycamore, which has apartments and upscale retail (there’s a new Anthro), has expanded the walkable downtown. Despite all the movement, locals are quick to note that the borough has done a great job of preserving the quaint vibe and history.


Malvern: The Biggest Building Boom in Chesco

Rendering of Uptown Worthington | Courtesy O'Neill Property Group

Rendering of Uptown Worthington | Courtesy O’Neill Property Group

By the Numbers

31

Average days a house was on the market in Malvern in 2016, a drop of 30% in one year

Malvern is in the midst of a gold rush of sorts. Buyers looking to get into the excellent Great Valley School District and close to the Main Line at a good price (realtors like to refer to this as the Upper Main Line, much to Gladwyne’s chagrin) are making grabs for newly converted land. “We’re seeing an awful lot of new construction,” says Linda Theuer, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway in Malvern. Some of these new communities have walking trails, playgrounds, and houses with all the great rooms and chef’s kitchens one could want, but smaller lots, by design. “People today want to be doing things with their families, not taking care of big plots of land,” says Theuer. Commercial projects are sprouting at an equal clip. One such project is Uptown Worthington, a development by O’Neill Properties that will have high-end apartments, eateries and a hotel to complement the Wegmans that’s there. Plus, changes coming to downtown Paoli and Devon (if that tempestuous Urban Outfitters center ever happens) will only benefit this growing village.


Glassboro & Pitman: Revivals That Are Revving Up the Entire Region

By the Numbers

321

Number of Glassboro properties sold in 2016, up 44% in one year

Glassboro, the home of Rowan University — traditionally a commuter school — is slowly becoming a college town. The Rowan Boulevard development plan, in the works since 2000, has successfully connected the campus with the town’s main drag. Now there’s fresh retail, student and non-student housing, and restaurants (like burger place Prime, from the Pub & Kitchen crew) — all good reasons for students to stick around. While it might not be Happy Valley just yet, says Rowan prof and Glassboro resident Courtney Richmond, a tipping point feels nigh.

Not to be outpaced, the neighboring (and once sleepy) town of Pitman has been crafting a new vibe. A regulatory loophole led to the recent opening of two microbreweries, sparking an anti-temperance movement. After 100 years, Pitman is dry no more. A pocket park and wine bar are in the works, and thanks to an infusion of funds from medical publishing titan Peter Slack, the rehabbed Broadway Theatre of Pitman will put on a full roster of shows (including many for kids) this year. Now, says former chamber of commerce president John Fitzpatrick, Pitman is seeing “more younger people, couples in their 30s with kids.” The next hurdle: getting that long-rumored Glassboro-Camden light rail line on the books.


Ardmore: A Downtown That’s Making a Comeback

Ardmore Farmers Market in Suburban Square | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Ardmore Farmers Market in Suburban Square | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

By the Numbers

49

Average days a house was on the market in Ardmore in 2016, a drop of 17% in one year

Ardmore has been around for more than a century, but town leaders have been working overtime in the past decade in hopes of making it the hippest Main Line town. (Take that, Wayne!) It’s working: Newer, cooler spots like Ardmore Music Hall and brewpubs like Tired Hands Brewing Company and Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant have brought life downtown — “Young life,” notes Emily Withers, of Keller Williams Main Line Realty — and people who are looking to put down roots. (The town, the largest on the Main Line, boasts more than 40 drinkeries and eateries.)

Those same 20- and 30-somethings, plus empty nesters, are expected to fill two new high-end apartment buildings. Dranoff Properties hopes to break ground this spring on One Ardmore Place, an eight-story building with 110 luxury rental units atop street-level retail. The project, which is replacing a surface parking lot on Cricket Avenue, is the linchpin of the revitalization plan, which connects Lancaster Avenue to Suburban Square. Across the street, Core Development has proposed a 77-unit building. And Suburban Square is getting a refresh: The defunct Macy’s is being replaced, in part, by the upscale health club Life Time Fitness, and a new parking garage, an enlarged Trader Joe’s and a rehabbed SEPTA station are in the work

This newly robust, pedestrian-friendly downtown is a top priority for today’s buyers. But so is diversity. The south side of town is home to one of the oldest and largest black communities on the Main Line. “I think diversity is always a draw — having a well-rounded area where you meet people of different backgrounds,” says Withers. The shops aren’t alone in expecting boom times: The Lower Merion School District has approved expansion projects, knowing that its student body is about to swell.

Q&A: The Developer Speaks!
After nine years, Carl Dranoff will break ground on One Ardmore Place this spring. Here’s why it was worth the wait.

You build giant towers downtown. Why apartments on the Main Line?
CD: This fits right into our playbook — we take on large-scale, game-changing projects. Ardmore has all the right ingredients: architecturally interesting buildings, the train station. You don’t need a car. That’s rare for the suburbs.

Did you need to be sold on the ’burbs?
CD: No. The township outlined a multi-phase, multi-year redevelopment plan. We saw, even back in 2008, that many residents in our urban buildings were commuting to jobs in the suburbs. Even more do now. We will diversify our holdings with Ardmore.

What sets this building apart?
CD: Most Main Line apartments are decades old, with no sense of community, no one to take your packages. We have outdoor space. We hired Cope Linder, the 1706 Rittenhouse architects. We will build an underground garage with 210 spots for the township.

There was some resistance from residents. Why stick with it?
CD: There were many opportunities for me to throw my arms up, but at the end of the day, this is the poster child for public-private collaboration. It could be a prototype for other towns that are starting to come back.


Marlton: A Quiet Town on a Building Spree

New home in Devonforde Estates | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

New home in Devonforde Estates | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

By the Numbers

$235,826

Average home price in Evesham Township in 2016, down 3% over five years

In Jersey, single-family homes and townhomes with upscale finishes are in high demand, and developers are responding. In Marlton — a 3.25-square-mile town that makes up most of Evesham Township — at least six communities are in the works from prolific developers like Procacci Development Company and Ryan Homes. And, says Cristin Holloway, managing broker of the Holloway Real Estate Group, most of her new buyers are young professionals fleeing the city in search of great schools and more space: “They’re ready to settle down and coming to New Jersey to do that.” Locals are loving the restaurant boom (even though it’s in a mall in nearby Moorestown), while Evesham officials have been furthering deals to keep the fun in town: There’s a lot of buzz about the redevelopment of the Tri-Towne Plaza on Route 70, which will have almost 300 luxury apartments, a pool, a gym, health services (Virtua has already signed on as a tenant), restaurants, a 1.5-mile recreational path, and a walking path that connects to Marlton’s downtown.


Phoenixville: High-End Rentals Mean a Younger Crowd

Downtown Phoenixville | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

Downtown Phoenixville | Photograph by Jeff Fusco

By the Numbers

16%

Five-year change in home value in Phoenixville

Here’s something to consider: Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Phoenix Village — one of a few newly opened upscale apartment buildings here — is around $2,000 a month. There’s a reason for that. This borough is a case study in downtown revitalization, with a main street that gets more vibrant every year. (The historic Colonial Theatre — of The Blob fame — is currently getting a state-of-the-art redo, and revamped theaters are traditionally boons to local economies.) That downtown life brought in the apartment buildings, including a 2016 Toll Brothers project called Riverworks that has a rock wall and dog spa; proposals could see another 1,000 rental units in the next few years. The appeal extends beyond Bridge Street, though. New-construction developments are being filled by young families who love hanging downtown, the Schuylkill River Trail, the proximity to offices in King of Prussia and Malvern, and a school district that ranks in the state’s top 50. While home prices are on the rise, realtor Seth Lejeune, from Berkshire Hathaway’s Collegeville office, says savvy investors are still finding good buys on the outskirts of town.

Published as “The Hottest Suburban Towns” in Philadelphia magazine’s March 2017 issue. Edited by Ashley Primis; Brian Howard and Sandy Smith also contributed to this story.

» See Also: Is King of Prussia the Promised Land?

» See Also: Our Town-by-Town Breakdown of Home Sales in 2016

I Love My Job: Jacob Cooper

jacobcooper1

An MSC Retail partner and managing director now, Jacob Cooper got his start in real estate about 10 years ago when he first joined the company as an associate after pursuing urban studies and art history at the University of Pennsylvania. And here’s the thing: Cooper currently works a few blocks away from where he grew up. This Philly native knows the cityscape better than most, and in his time with MSC, he’s helped owners and developers reshape the streets of his childhood — and he says he never wants to leave. Cooper shares with us his choice for Philly’s finest piece of architecture and the number of restaurants he’s checked off on the 2017 Best Restaurants list. 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 »

Wells Fargo Commits $5M to Home Ownership Program

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 1.53.35 PM

Wells Fargo has announced it is committing $5 million to a down-payment assistance program designed to boost home ownership in Philadelphia.

The program, Philadelphia NeighborhoodLIFT, offers eligible homebuyers grants of $2,500 to $7,500 to help match their down payments on a house. Recipients must must not have an annual income exceeding 80 percent of the local median — just under $65,000 a year in Philadelphia for a family of four, though the income limits vary depending on family size and type of loan. Assistance is not limited to first-time buyers.

The company is partnering with New Kensington Community Development Corporation in the project.

Read more »

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