Ron Rubin Was Here

He’s left a bigger mark on Philly than anyone this side of Willard Rouse, and now, at 77, he wants to put a casino in Strawbridge’s. The key to being Ron Rubin? Patience, and knowing how deals here really get done

The four of them — Rendell, Rubin, Eisner and Eisner’s wife — walked down to 8th and Market from City Hall. Somehow, Rendell, the quintessential salesman, sold Michael Eisner, who greenlighted the DisneyQuest project by the time they’d walked back to City Hall.

Rubin acquired a half interest in the property. But then Chicago’s DisneyQuest started tanking, and Eisner made a sudden decision: No more DisneyQuests. Rubin and Goldenberg were left with the hole at 8th and Market, now a parking lot.

Rubin chuckles about it. “Sitting here today,” he says in his office, “I couldn’t tell you what I’m going to do with it.”

This is another telling thing about Rubin: Despite the big, unyielding trajectory of his career, he’s the opposite of the hard-driving deal-maker. Bill Rouse, who broke the City Hall height limit by building Liberty Place, was the about-town, black-tie-event developer, the visionary who would pontificate about urban/suburban interfacing and so forth. Rubin simply makes deals, builds, goes home, maybe squeezes in a little golf. He evinces almost no ego; it’s not his style to demand. The corollary is that he’s enormously patient, a perfect mating of clout and temperament. Rubin has owned a property in Marple Township on the Blue Route since 1959, a lot where old refrigerators and mattresses end up. He’s tried to build there several times, but the suburban Not In My Neighborhood rigmarole can be worse than the city’s. No matter: Rubin’s waited half a century, so he can wait a little longer.

In 1997, Rubin’s company would morph again by merging with a public company. He’s now CEO of PREIT — which essentially operates like a mutual fund for real estate development. PREIT owns 39 malls in 13 states, including, locally, Exton, Plymouth Meeting, Cherry Hill, Willow Grove, Moorestown, Echelon. And the Gallery.

Former Commerce Bank head Vernon Hill marvels at Rubin successfully segueing from running a private company to running one beholden to Wall Street: “It doesn’t happen very often — when you’re private, you do what you want. Now he reports to the world.” PREIT’s first-quarter revenue for this year topped $100,000,000.

It’s a long, long arc of a career, starting with the kid who flunked out of Penn State and returned home humiliated. He sought his father’s approval and followed his advice to avoid falling in love with the bricks. The simplicity is daunting. Rubin’s a businessman. He makes deals. He builds buildings. He develops malls. He makes stockholders happy. That’s Ron Rubin’s arc, simultaneously narrow and high.

Now there’s something new — his interest in a casino. And when you take a look at how that finally landed in downtown Philadelphia, well, this is really how cities get built.