Philadelphia’s New Boom

A view of Center City from Penn Medicine’s Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics, taken on a February morning at sunrise. Photograph by Chris Sembrot

A view of Center City from Penn Medicine’s Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics, taken on a February morning at sunrise. Photograph by Chris Sembrot

Were you here in 1987? (Actually: Were you even born?) If you were, maybe you remember the thrill of One Liberty Place rising in the sky — an honest-to-God Philadelphia skyscraper at last, looking down on Billy Penn’s hat. How about the early ’60s, when Society Hill emerged from a hardscrabble neighborhood and Penn Center gave a new sleekness to downtown?

We find ourselves in one of those moments again — a period when our physical surroundings are changing quickly and drastically around us. What’s different this time is the breadth of the change, with new buildings and revitalized neighborhoods and inviting public spaces emerging all at once all across the city. We’re calling it the New Boom, and on the following pages we give you an inside look at the eight trends that are fundamentally reshaping Philadelphia — and a sneak preview of the revitalized city we’ll live in for the next half century.

Edited by Ashley Primis

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Letters From the (Real Estate) Trenches

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Illustration by Tim Durning

This past fall, after five years of renting in Fairmount, my husband and I finally decided to buy a home of our own in the neighborhood. Now, call me naive — maybe too many hours logged on HGTV? — but I honestly thought that our prequalified mortgage and 20 percent in our pockets meant we’d follow the classic script: We’d find a place, put in an offer, have our agent negotiate with the seller’s agent, and then — voilà! — be happy homeowners.

That isn’t how it went.

In fact, says realtor Karrie Gavin, that’s rarely how it goes these days in Philly. Gavin, a four-year agent with Elfant Wissahickon, prides herself on almost never losing a bidding war — and she’s been in a lot of bidding wars lately. A lot. “The inventory is very low right now, and there’s a high buyer demand,” she says. “I’m seeing a lot of things selling for above the asking price.” Penn’s Fels Institute of Government reports that home prices in fall of 2014 shot up all over the city; average days on market fell from 88 last winter to 67. The takeaway? Gird your loins, buyers: Competition is fierce, especially in hot spots like Fairmount, Grad Ho, Bella Vista, Queen Village, Passyunk Square, even Chestnut Hill and Narberth.

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What’s in Store for Philly in 2015


Clockwise from top left: Nordstrom Rack will falter; Bradley Cooper will get an Oscar nod; projects like East Market will fuel the millennial boom; and throwback cuisine will become a full-blown trend.

Restaurants and Bars

Predictions by Jason Sheehan and Art Etchells, editors of Foobooz

  • Culinary nostalgia will totally become a full-fledged trend. With Juniper Commons already bringing back the cuisine of the 1980s and Bud & Marilyn’s set to do the same for diner food, it looks like we’re all going to be eating a lot more raspberry vinaigrette and chocolate lava cake. The next big thing? Upscale TV dinners.

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West Chester Woman Accused of Real Estate Ponzi Scheme

Federal authorities today charged a 43-year-old West Chester woman with an elaborate ponzi scheme to defraud real estate investors. United States Attorney Zane David Memeger said Marie Miksche Bontigao bilked lenders out of more than $2 million dollars.

According to the indictment, Bontigao set up the Tri-State Group franchise of EXIT Realty and solicited investments in real estate projects. Instead, authorities say, she used the money to operate her business and pay real estate expenses. She faces charges of wire and mail fraud.

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Boyd Theater’s Fate May (Finally! Really!) Be Decided Today

Today’s the day we’ll found out whether that last-second donor really will be able to preserve Center City’s Boyd Theater in something like it’s original form, or if redevelopment plans that would reuse the facade — and completely rebuild behind it — will proceed. Developer Neil Rodin and his client, iPic Pictures, are going before the Historical Commission  today to make the case for the latter scenario.

The case hinges on whether the developers can prove that preserving the property would create a financial hardship for current owners.

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Family Court Building to Become Luxury Hotel

The Inquirer reports: “In another major project for the Logan Square neighborhood, Mayor Nutter is expected to announce Tuesday that Kimpton Hotels will open a luxury hotel in the Family Court building at 1801 Vine St., according to people familiar with the project. … The Kimpton group was one of three that submitted proposals for converting the 73-year-old building into a hotel.” The project is estimated to cost $85 million. It would include 199 rooms, a ballroom, “meeting and board rooms, a spa and fitness center, and a restaurant and bar.”

WANTED: Chef for Standout Graduate Hospital Development


Carpenter Square is one of the more impressive pieces of development going on in the Graduate Hospital section of Philadelphia. The materials stand out among the stucco bump-outs that dominate the development in the neighborhood. The project is bringing eleven townhouses to 17th Street and six condo units to the corner of 17th and Carpenter. On the ground floor, there are plans for a restaurant.

Developer Mark Scott, a Graduate Hospital resident, says the key to activating the plaza is to put a restaurant in the commercial space — specifically, one with a liquor license. Although the condo building is at present no more than a mound of dirt and a hole in the ground, the commercial space is actively being shopped by Jackie Balin of CBRE Fameco to potential restaurant tenants, with a focus on young chefs looking to strike out on their own.

PHOTOS: Carpenter Square, Halfway There, Seeks Restaurant [Property]

Can Someone Help James Dupree?
And Let’s Fix Eminent Domain
While We’re at It.


Would someone please help James Dupree already?

For weeks I’ve been following his story.  Hopefully you know it by now.  In case you don’t, he’s the artist who owns a building in West Philly and he’s being forced out, under the city’s “eminent domain” rules in order to make way for a grocery store.  Apparently, the neighborhood really needs a grocery store.  So much so that the city is compelled to make him an offer he can’t refuse:  Sell his property at a much-lower-than-market price or watch his building be bulldozed.  Nice.  Dupree is fighting the city.  He’s enlisted some major people in the art world to back him up too.

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