Ron Rubin Was Here

by admin | June 23, 2009 9:56 am

IT’S A FINE spring morning at 8th and Market, and nobody knows who Ron Rubin is.

This is a little much to ask, at 8 a.m. on a weekday — to be concerned with Ron Rubin. He’s a developer. He’s refurbished hotels. He has built and rented office buildings, especially. He owns malls, including Plymouth Meeting and Cherry Hill and others you probably shop at. Rubin’s been at it so long that everywhere you look in the city, you can see his handiwork. Especially in this neighborhood. At 8th and Market, though, folks are just scuttling into their day, changing trains underground, grabbing a paper, hustling to work.

But if they took a moment to glance around, they’d begin to understand that Ron Rubin, a guy they’ve probably never heard of, is the man most responsible, over the past half-century, for building their city. Looking toward City Hall: There’s the PSFS building four blocks away — Rubin made that into the Loews Hotel. (And if they really looked, past Billy Penn shyly turned away atop City Hall, there’s the Mellon Bank building at 18th and Market. That’s Rubin’s biggest office project.) Across Market, there’s the Gallery mall — Rubin owns it. Next: the Strawbridge’s building, with scaffolding on the front and the metallic boom of workers dumping trash out the back — that’s Rubin’s, too, a building in transition. Across Market from Strawbridge’s, there’s a parking lot where DisneyQuest was supposed to go until Michael Eisner said no — that was Ron’s project, along with another developer.

The openness of the lot exposes the blunt brick back of a high-rise facing Chestnut — the old Gimbels building. Half a century ago, Market East showcased the city’s big department stores — Gimbels, Strawbridge’s, Lit’s, Wanamaker’s. Gimbels has been remade into offices, and a man in a dorky teal-and-navy-blue uniform works in the shade of its imposing facade, sweeping minuscule debris into a dustbin: He’s a member of the Center City District brigade, the cleanup operation that transformed downtown back in the ’90s. Ron Rubin started the CCD — virtually nobody knows this, either. Nobody knows that he is the man who, according to Rubin’s buddy Ed Rendell, had more to do with bringing Center City back than anyone else.

But as much as he seems to have done for Philadelphia, in South Philly there’s a different view of Ron Rubin.

There, an adamant contingent of folks believes it knows all too well who Ron Rubin is. He’s the guy who, over the past several years, has been trying to put Foxwoods, a big slots parlor he’s invested in, on Delaware Avenue — not exactly in the neighborhood, but awfully close. South Philly roared in protest. One of political operative John Dougherty’s minions distributed fliers with a photo of Rubin. It was doctored to include horns emanating from the top of Rubin’s head, perhaps attempting to belittle him as a Jew, though that may be giving the flier-makers too much historical savvy. Maybe Rubin is merely the Devil. There were words, too, beneath the photo:

No good Ron Rubin has ever done, or will ever do, can equal the harm he is doing to our neighborhoods by building Foxwoods.

The anti-casino forces won — there will not be a slots parlor in South Philly. To Rubin, though, neighborhood opposition is just one of the obstacles of building in a city — he’ll keep trying to find a way. When it was finally clear, last summer, that a South Philly site simply wouldn’t work, Rubin said okay, he’d put it somewhere else.

Foxwoods Casino is now going into the Strawbridge’s building — on the second and third floors of the historically certified landmark, built on the site where Thomas Jefferson had an office when he was Secretary of State in the 1790s.

Many people think this, too, is a horrible idea — to put a casino within a token’s throw of Independence Hall, to jam a slots parlor downtown. Many other people think it’s a pretty good idea, given how the city desperately needs the cash gambling will generate. A few are cautiously optimistic that a casino will rejuvenate Market East, which — despite Rubin’s efforts — hasn’t recovered from the exodus of department stores.

At the moment, however, at 8 a.m. on a crystal-clear spring morning, the folks streaming off the trains below, or parking in the garage just south of Market, or hoofing it from their downtown apartments — they’re just trying to get into their days.

They don’t know that Ron Rubin is hard at work, building their city.

WE THINK OF Philadelphia as the most carefully planned of cities, given William Penn’s original squared-off grid of downtown, plus the cast-in-brick preservation of Old City as the locus of America’s beginning.

But the larger and more complicated a city becomes, naturally, the harder it is to sustain a vision for its design. I-95 roaring right through the city, or Liberty Place breaking the implicit City Hall height restriction, or the Phillies’ new stadium ending up in a parking lot in South Philly instead of downtown — all huge projects, with mixed results for Philadelphia. But the point isn’t whether they’re good or bad: They happen, often at odds with what surrounds them, driven by political expediency or greed or stupidity or maybe one man’s obsession to get something built. Some of them change the city forever.

Casinos coming to the city — especially one downtown — might be that sort of landmark, something we look back on and wonder, like I-95 cutting us off from our river: Now how the hell did that happen?

Which brings us back to Ron Rubin. He’s spent half a century building downtown. Most Philadelphians have heard of Bill Rouse, whose Liberty Place put Billy Penn in shadow and opened up the city’s skyline. Ron Rubin has been just as important in changing our city, in creating it. He builds, and then builds again, bigger. Just how does he do it?
By focusing on the deals, and by never, as he puts it, “falling in love with the bricks.” Building in a large city is a calculating game because it’s so difficult. Thriving for 50 years — it’s a testament not only to Rubin fostering relationships with mayors and navigating financial markets and having extraordinary patience in the face of roadblocks, but also to his singular focus, his ability to keep right on doing what he needs to do. To build. Bigger.

And there may be no better example of Rubin’s canniness and focus than his casino. The project’s move to Market East isn’t just a proverbial win-win, but a win-win-win: It removes the political obstacles to the casino being built; it will fill vacant space in the Rubin-owned Strawbridge’s building; and it will revitalize a neighborhood where the dominant landlord is none other than Ron Rubin.

A good deal for him? Absolutely. The question, of course, is whether it’s nearly as good a deal for the rest of us.

REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT isn’t a game for lightweights, so I meet with Rubin with some trepidation. He’s powerful, and shuns the media. On the other hand, those who know him universally like Rubin, saying what a good, honest, understated guy “Ronnie” is.

Sitting across from him in a small conference room in his Bellevue offices, I get the first guy — the scary one. Rubin is small and wiry and very bald. He’s wearing a blue sweater and wire-rim glasses. He’s 77. He could be a great-grandfather.

But Rubin stares at me, and keeps staring, with a much younger intensity — in fact, he doesn’t stop staring for a good 10 or 15 minutes, through simple questions about his refurbishment of the Bellevue back in the late ’70s. It’s his pride and joy, and no wonder; he saved the grand old hotel from the wrecking ball after Legionnaires’ disease killed 29 conventioneers. It nearly crippled his company, but it’s a wonderful gift to the city — the only time in his career when his love for the bricks overrode his business sense — and I tell him that.

“Listen, this is where I was born, and raised, and I made my living here,” Rubin says in his blunt, unhurried way, “and my father and mother, both of whom were immigrants, they came here and raised their family. This city is very important to us. The company is located here. We could have relocated to the suburbs and saved tax money, done things of that sort. This is important.”

Rubin’s still staring. His gift as a deal-maker is reading others, their vulnerabilities and strengths; as he’s done deals with tens of millions of dollars at stake, he has always played his cards close to the vest and said as little as possible. Presumably, he doesn’t stare quite so adamantly across negotiating tables. Now, though, he’s being asked to say a lot — and that’s what the stare is about: to figure out exactly what I’m trying to take from him.
But then, slowly, another side emerges. I get a glimpse of that when he shares the big reason, as Rubin himself understands it, why he’s flourished for so long in such a demanding game.

Rubin flunked out of Penn State his first year; when he came home to West Philadelphia, his father, who had a company that leased land to gas stations, said to him, “Son, you are the biggest disappointment in my whole life.”

Everything changed in that moment for Rubin — it’s almost 60 years later, and those words are still fresh for him. Not as raw pain, but in his own view of the arc of his career. It would rise, and keep rising. It had to. “It was the seminal moment in my whole life,” Rubin says. “That comment by my father.”

Ron idolized his father. He couldn’t stand the idea that he had disappointed him. Changing his father’s opinion would take time, so Ron went to work in the shipping department of a sportswear company. That was the beginning of the climb back. A couple years later, Ron started working for his father, who’d made his own long climb. It took still more time, and meant everything to Ron, whether or not his father would grow to respect him: “I think eventually he did,” he says.

The self-effacing directness is not just his nature but part of Rubin’s strength: People like doing deals with him. He always leaves a few nickels on the table. With me, he’s shifted the mood entirely: As a builder in a big city, Rubin says, “Every time you make a decision, people can criticize you. I’m not impervious. It’s life. I’m a big boy.” We wind up as two fellows having a conversation.

Yet I’ve learned something important about how he works. It tends to be a mystery, to the rest of us, just why a man pushing 80, who’s fabulously rich and successful, would bother becoming even richer and more successful. But he won’t relent; his arc must keeping rising. Which explains why he’s in the casino game, and why it’s a man like Ron Rubin who has everything to do with what kind of city we build.

THERE WAS ANOTHER crucial influence on Rubin’s career, someone he got to know back in the early ’70s: Warren Bevan, who ran Equitable Real Estate Company. Without him, Rubin’s career might have been much smaller and stayed within his father’s run-of-the-mill leasing business. Warren Bevan had money to invest, and he needed a developer.

Bevan catapulted Rubin to the next level, and beyond, fast. “He had a way of looking at a piece of real estate,” Bevan says. “You could give Ronald a project and watch him think.” Rubin would buy and refurbish One Penn Center. He bought One Meridian Plaza (then lost it in a fire that killed three firefighters) and the Channel 10 building on City Avenue; he built the Mellon Bank Center. By the mid-’80s, Rubin controlled millions of feet of office space in the city, more than anyone else. He built malls: Christiana, Willow Grove, Moorestown. He expanded out of the region, with more malls up and down the East Coast. Warren Bevan, who invested in most of these deals, made Ron Rubin’s rise possible.
Rubin, in turn, became a local political player. As the City of Philadelphia teetered on the verge of bankruptcy in the early ’90s, Rubin read how Cleveland corporate leaders got together in the wake of Dennis Kucinich’s disastrous mayoralty to poke into politics. The Rubin Group — Ron says it was named that because when some 40 businesspeople met in the Bellevue, he paid for dinner — vetted candidates for the ’91 mayor’s race: Ed Rendell, Sam Katz, Frank Rizzo. The group would end up generating no real political power, given that it couldn’t agree on who should get their support. But Rubin, a Rendell man, had gained a new entrée: After Rendell was elected, the first-term mayor brought Rubin in to discuss development initiatives like the ever-troubled Penn’s Landing. Rubin had become the go-to business guy in town.

Rubin’s formation of the Center City District — another example of his enlightened self-interest — early in Rendell’s tenure proved crucial to transforming downtown. For his own buildings, Rubin was spending some half a million dollars a year on security and cleaning — wasted money if the city remained utterly uninviting. Rubin, ever practical, bent on getting things done, agreed to go to Council and push for a downtown real estate tax increase to fund CCD if it would focus on just two things: clean and safe. “It was the first inkling of hope to people who lived and worked downtown,” Rendell says.

Rubin’s connections — and his glowing track record as a developer — now made him able to broker deals himself. He would oversee the Comcast-Spectacor agreement between Ed Snider and Ralph and Brian Roberts (pocketing several million bucks in the process). And under Rendell, he was getting picked to jump-start tough projects, even if they didn’t always pan out.

For instance: Rubin wanted to transform the Girard Estates-owned block on Market between 11th and 12th streets into big-time retail. Vince Fumo controlled the Board of City Trusts, which controlled the block; Rubin is close to Fumo, and insiders say Fumo essentially anointed Rubin to develop it. Rubin brought Nordstrom reps to town, introduced them to the mayor and showed them around, hoping the department store would become the block’s anchor tenant. Rendell “worked on,” the Governor says, a young Nordstrom family member behind the scenes.

But Nordstrom “got skittish,” Rendell says, for exactly the reasons everyone desperately wanted to land the store: Market East was too much of a wasteland. That — and the $100 million that might have been necessary for land acquisition and to build an underground parking garage — scuttled the deal.

If the Girard Estates collapse was disappointing, the DisneyQuest failure at 8th and Market — the infamous hole in the ground — was an embarrassment. One hot, humid August night in 1999, Rendell gave Rubin a call and asked him to come to his office. Disney head Michael Eisner and his wife were there, waiting. Rendell had pulled Rubin into the project because the original developer, Ken Goldenberg, was too inexperienced at big downtown, multi-use buildings.
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.
LAST SUMMER, RON Rubin called his buddy Ed Rendell with an idea.

Rubin wanted to relocate the proposed Foxwoods casino, in which he is a prime investor, from the river on Delaware Avenue to his Gallery mall. The waterfront was an unmitigated disaster of a site. Even Rubin, with his infamous patience, had had enough.

The state Gaming Control Board had approved two slots parlors for the city in 2006. Rubin formed an investment partnership, bringing in Flyers and Sixers owner Ed Snider and businessman/Rendell crony Lew Katz; each set up his share as a charitable trust — meaning that their earnings won’t line their pockets, but just might accrue enough to define their legacies.

However, after the group teamed with Foxwoods, the Connecticut-based casino, and won the bid from the board for the Delaware Avenue site, big problems immediately surfaced: South Philly neighborhood opposition was fierce; traffic congestion appeared unsolvable; and City Councilman Frank DiCicco, whose district included both casino sites, and whose sponsoring of a zoning ordinance in City Council greenlighting the casino was necessary, dug in — against Foxwoods, especially. If DiCicco hadn’t, he risked a John Dougherty-led attack that could accuse him of being in the pocket of developers as his reelection approached. “So DiCicco had to be more anti-gaming than Nixon was anti-Communist,” Foxwoods lawyer Jeff Rotwitt says.

For months, Rubin sat back. He was content to let DiCicco get reelected, to watch the process play out. Still, Foxwoods couldn’t come close to breaking ground. Occasionally Rubin and Rotwitt would have lunch at the Palm, downstairs from Rubin’s Bellevue office. Rotwitt was beginning to go a little crazy, shuttling between State Senator Vince Fumo and Governor Rendell and House Speaker John Perzel and community groups and Mayor Nutter and Frank DiCicco, begging for political traction.

Rubin seemed almost amused. “It’s out of our control,” he told Rotwitt, who certainly didn’t disagree. What will happen will happen, Rubin counseled; Rotwitt wanted Rubin to get more involved, to jump-start the process — “I think he was the only one who could have,” Rotwitt says now.

But Rubin had long ago learned the value of simply waiting. Some deals have a last-man-standing quality to them; they may look dead in the water, but if you hang in …

Meanwhile, anti-casino protests were relentless. John Dougherty stayed publicly quiet, because building a casino meant thousands of jobs for his blue-collar charges. Privately, though, Dougherty had made an offer to a lawyer for a Foxwoods competitor: “You want me to really kill this project?” The activist organization Casino-Free Philadelphia went out to attention-shy Rubin’s Penn Valley neighborhood, knocked on doors, shared what that guy next door was up to downtown. Bringing gambling to our city! (When they made the mistake of knocking on Rubin’s door, and asking him, through a speaker, whether he would talk, Rubin declined.)
Still, Rubin waited, not pressing either Rendell or DiCicco, though he also knew the councilman. A decade ago, they had met to discuss Market East development. DiCicco rattled on to Rubin about what he’d seen on the Via Veneto in Rome: restaurants with glass-enclosed extensions onto the sidewalk, happy diners eating alfresco in bad weather. Just the sort of elegant transformation DiCicco envisioned on Market East. “Frank, you should be a city planner,” Rubin complimented him. DiCicco basked in the praise — he’s still basking in it — and in how they were on the same page about making the neighborhood a 24/7 place of action.

Rotwitt grew increasingly frustrated. DiCicco had been reelected but didn’t back off on his opposition to a casino on the river in South Philly. Even Rubin, by last year, was beginning to get impatient. Meanwhile, the Nutter administration was doing everything it could to derail Foxwoods by not issuing necessary permits (even as it included casino revenue in its financial plans). Yet another problem was emerging: Rotwitt had been negotiating $525 million in loans with Merrill Lynch (which, of course, no longer exists) and the World Bank of Scotland (which, now nationalized, barely exists). Credit markets, by last summer, were falling apart.

It was time for Rubin to consider making his move.

Ron Rubin had bought the Gallery and other malls in 2003 when the Rouse company liquidated its holdings. City officials all say the same things about the Gallery: that the two-block blank wall it presents to Market Street creates a dead zone, and that opening it up to the city is the key to remaking the neighborhood. And the Gallery itself — tens of thousands of feet of space! — is rife with such possibility, given its proximity to the Convention Center, with so many out-of-towners showing up with plenty of cash and being forced to take a bus out to King of Prussia to spend it. Which hardly entices them to come back to the city.

Not with a Market Street mall that — viewed, back in 1980, as world-class, state-of-the-art, a great urban idea — caters to working-class people. Basically, only working-class people.

A casino in the Gallery: now, that would change things. It was an idea that had been spitballed around Rubin’s offices for years, even before Vince Fumo and Ed Rendell slipped their bill legalizing slots past the state legislature on the eve of summer recess back in 2004. A casino would keep some of those conventioneers, and their spouses, right in Market East, and bring in restaurants, and then other retailers, and then, suddenly … As hard as it is to get projects going, sometimes a trigger — the cleanup of downtown, the refurbishment of the Bellevue as the anchor to the Avenue of the Arts — jump-starts a whole neighborhood. Which is right up the Rubin m.o. of enlightened self-interest.

Last summer, he got on the phone.

At that point, Rendell and Mayor Nutter were under strong pressure themselves — Rendell from the state legislature, Nutter from Rendell — to get the city’s two slots parlors up and running, given how gambling proceeds were supposed to lard state and city coffers with tens of millions of dollars.
“Rubin brought the idea to us,” Governor Rendell says. “We had looked at alternate sites for the casino, and all of a sudden, one day last summer, he calls. Then he called Nutter, and the ball started rolling in the right direction.”

The momentum — something Rubin says is crucial to all big deals — was about to shift quickly.

After Rubin called him, Governor Rendell called Frank DiCicco. They hadn’t talked in more than two years — the fallout over DiCicco’s casino opposition — but the Councilman and Mayor Nutter, who desperately needed the Governor’s support because of his own budget woes, were quickly on board with the move to the Gallery. DiCicco was sure Rubin was the right guy to rebuild Market East, the developer who could incorporate a casino into downtown the Via Veneto way. And DiCicco was, not surprisingly, desperate to be done holding the anti-casino torch in South Philly; he’d lived it for three years.

Early this year, however, there was another slight twist in where Foxwoods would land. Plopping it in the Gallery was looking pricey, based on demands of the Burlington Coat Factory and other tenants for relocation costs. Joe Coradino, who works under Rubin as the president of PREIT, had a brainstorm one day in a meeting with Foxwoods lawyers: Why don’t we put the casino in the old Strawbridge’s building at 8th and Market?

Technically it’s not part of the Gallery, though Rubin bought a chunk of it in 2004 when it appeared likely to become an office building and, therefore, a dark, uninviting anchor on the eastern edge of his mall. Coradino suddenly realized the huge — and empty — second and third floors in Strawbridge’s would work fine as a slots parlor; he halted the meeting with Foxwoods and took his prospective tenants on a tour of the building.

Presto! Foxwoods was moving again.

There are, of course, some interesting complications here to mull. Joe Coradino avers that Ron Rubin, an investor in Foxwoods, has nothing to do with renting space to his own casino — Rubin has recused himself from PREIT’s discussions with Foxwoods. So there Coradino sits, in the office next to Ron Rubin’s, an employee for 28 years who was made a partner by Rubin in a handshake deal at 15th and Market in 1983 — no contract between the two, ever — who now says that there’s no way he’d let this tenant, Foxwoods, put slots machines in the windows and corrupt a great old building and tart up the stretch of Market Street to boot. So … does Coradino never happen into the men’s room at PREIT, where he runs into boss and mentor and Foxwoods investor Ron Rubin, who just happens to have a thought or two about how to showcase a gambling hall?

Just asking.
It’s the sort of question that gnaws at City Planning Commission member Natalia Olson de Savyckyj, who doesn’t like how the casino is being jammed downtown willy-nilly. City officials tend to say, naturally, that the appropriate hoops will be jumped through — that traffic and parking and gambling-addiction studies will be done for the Market East site, that proper consideration will be given to what to do about the soup kitchen at 8th and Arch, that Chinatown will be heard from. …

“We request from all developers that they present a strategy for development, drawings, ideas, that they meet with the community,” Olson de Savyckyj says. “We haven’t seen these [Foxwoods] guys. Nothing. Zero.” She was the only planning commission member to vote against approval for Foxwoods moving to Market East: “I don’t want to look back 20 or 30 years from now and say, ‘That was harmful.’ Philadelphia’s process is very loose.” What’s more, it’s easy to forget that the two slots-parlor licenses were originally awarded in Philadelphia, to Foxwoods and Sugarhouse, on the basis not just of who would build them, but where.

Ron Rubin, with half a century’s expertise in how to see a project through, rewarded for his patience as the casino game changes, seems to be rolling downhill now, with Rendell and Nutter and DiCicco all very self-interested politically in a casino getting built in Market East, which could happen relatively fast, since it’s slated for a standing building.

When I ask Rubin whether casinos are a good thing to put in his city, he pauses for a long time.

“I think,” he says, and then stops again, thinking.

“In some respects it’s positive, and in other respects it’s negative. It’s like everything else in life. It’s positive for certain reasons, certainly economic. It provides a substantial amount of money to the city. It’s attractive to some conventioneers. Are there issues with regard to addiction? I think there probably are.”

THE BUSINESS OF America is business. It’s a shame, in this era of financial market collapse, that that little homily from the era when Ron Rubin’s father was a young man just starting out, delivering shoes at the back door of the Bellevue, sounds so quaint. A certain manner of doing business, Ron’s method, goes a long way:

Jeff Rotwitt remembers the end of a long day of negotiations with imperious Fidelity Mutual bankers from New York, hammering out the Meridian Plaza deal in 1989. But what Rotwitt remembers isn’t Rubin going toe-to-toe with Fidelity Mutual, or even wearing the bankers down with his patience, but Rubin’s sweetness. Rubin sent out to Pat’s for 40 cheesesteaks at 2 a.m. and then worried over whether the paralegals and secretaries, everybody and anybody in the room, got the requested fried onions or Cheez Whiz.
But yes, of course, don’t be fooled: Quietly, Rubin picks up idiosyncrasies of partners, vulnerabilities on the other side of the negotiating table. He understands what he can get in a deal and gets it. And he doesn’t squeeze every last dollar; everyone should get up from a negotiation satisfied. Which has given Rubin a stellar reputation as a guy you want to keep on working with.

Ron Rubin’s interest in the Foxwoods casino is a natural extension of his deal-making arc. He’s very careful to make sure it’s understood that all the income he generates from his slots parlor goes to charity: “I’m looking you in the eyes” — the Rubin stare again — “I’m telling you that our interest in this deal is purely that.” Rubin says he wants to teach his two grown children about the importance of giving; Rotwitt surmises that Rubin has a mini Pew Charitable Trusts legacy in mind. Pushing a little higher.

But here’s the rub: Ron Rubin doesn’t have a vision — he builds, and then builds bigger. In a complex city, simply getting a project off the ground is its own challenge and reward. The arc ascends, as it must. Rubin doesn’t so much subvert William Penn’s simple plan, or Ed Bacon’s post-war redo, or a thousand ideas on reshaping the city, as make them irrelevant.

It looks likely that Philadelphia will have two slots parlors — the state has decreed them legal, and the local roadblock is down to continual wailing from those who have a knee-jerk antipathy to gambling (plus some grumbling from Gramercy Capital, the company that owns seven upper floors of Strawbridge’s). But why is it that Ron Rubin, a businessman, a builder, an agnostic when it comes to whether casinos are actually a good thing for his city, gets to decide where his legacy lands? Because that’s how the City of Philadelphia is being built.

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