I Love My Job: Meet the Woman Behind South Philly’s New Lincoln Square Development
Dana Valenti, Kimco Realty’s director of development, tells us all about delivering a project with such big impact for residents, retailers and the city as a whole.
Last week, city officials cut the ribbon on Lincoln Square, the long-awaited nine story mixed-use project that now occupies the NW corner of Broad and Washington Streets in South Philly. The $100 million, 300,000-square-foot-development brings life to a once barren corner of the neighborhood with 322 rental units and a full slate of retailers including Target, Wine and Spirits, Petsmart, Sprint, Chipotle and Insomnia Cookies. And, next door, residents will find a repurposed historic rail shed that now houses Sprouts Farmers Market.
The vision is all about contemporary living, Kimco Realty director of development Dana Valenti tells Philly Mag. Valenti has been behind the scenes for the past five years orchestrating the nitty gritty of the development. It was a very complicated project that took a village, Valenti says, and the big impact of the project is only just being realized. The real estate leader tells us the ins and outs of delivering on such a massive feat, and what it’s like to build something in a place that you call home.
I grew up in… Northeast Philadelphia.
I currently live in… Baltimore, which is a bit surprising because I didn’t expect to live there, but it’s a great city. My job requires me to travel a lot, so I’m pretty much three days in Baltimore and three days in Philadelphia. On Sundays I could be anywhere — New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore.
My favorite thing about Philly is… the food. When I am in Philadelphia, I go for cheesesteaks, pretzels, pasta — everything. It’s comfort food. It’s home. The other thing I love is the sports scene. The sports are like no other in any other town I’ve ever been in. The fans are incredible; they’re passionate. Everyone knows where they were when certain things in Philadelphia sports happened.
I got into real estate and development when… I worked for a family-owned holding company in Philadelphia that had a number of different businesses. I was immediately attracted to the real estate business because of the people. The real estate industry has a lot of different personalities. But, it’s also the work. It’s transactional. You see a lot of different products and deals, and that’s exciting. It’s really an industry where you can continue to recreate yourself.
When I hear the phrase “contemporary living” I think… of a place where you have all the amenities you need right at your fingertips. Lincoln Square is the perfect example of that. We have 50,000 square feet of amenity space, and that’s in addition to the retail that’s on site. The tenant mix at Lincoln really provides a resident with anything they could want from the time they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed. You get your coffee at Starbucks. You can do your shopping at Sprouts, you can get your sheets and your pillows and whatever you need from Target.
Overall, Lincoln Square has been… well received. The interest from retailers early on was phenomenal, so that led us to believe that residential would also make sense there. Our partner Leo Addimando with Alterra Property Group did a really good job of listening to the community. Part of being a good developer is listening. And when you listen and you understand what people want and what their concerns are and you respond in a way that kind of makes everybody happy, it tends to make your process and your journey a little bit smoother.
The coolest thing about the train shed in the development is… that it allows us to marry history with contemporary design. It was 28,000 square feet and we added 4,000 square feet to the train shed to house Sprouts Farmers Market. We kept some of the original elements of the train shed like the barn doors and we added some design elements. We replaced the interior ceiling of the roof with this really clean wood. It’s modern, but it still ties into that old historic feel. It also has outside space right on Broad Street.
Philly’s rental scene is… expanding. The renter has so many more options today, and I think it’s beneficial for the city.
A housing amenity I couldn’t live without is… a washer and dryer. Once you have it, there’s just no going back. Closet space is also important.
Something most people might not know about Lincoln Square from looking at the website or reading an article is… we have a number of the units on the third floor that have terraces. If you are looking for outside space in the city, you have to see these terraces. They’re massive and have excellent views of the city.
Dog parks are important for developments nowadays because… everybody today has a dog. They allow your dog to get out of the apartment, run around a little bit and interact with other dogs. It also provides an opportunity for tenants to get to know each other.
A worry I have about Lincoln Square is… getting tenants in and making sure that what we deliver is what they expect. Right now, the retail is about 95 percent leased, and we’ve delivered floors one through six on the residential side. The building will be fully delivered before the end of October. Overall, this is the good part. This is the part where you see everything come together. You get to enjoy it and really show people what you’ve created. The worrying is about done.
Something people get wrong about developers is… they think we’re all greedy. I think that’s not the case today. Developers understand, and I think they realize, the community has a big part in what we’re delivering. You’re really creating a community within a community, so it’s necessary to really listen to the community’s concerns and respond. And I think there are also a lot more women in the industry where it may have been a male-dominated field before.
My favorite phase of a development is… the early part, really. It’s the titlements. It’s planning. I always say this is the one job that allows me to negotiate, problem solve and really be creative almost every day. That’s unique. When you’re in the early phases, you’re creating something, you’re listening, you’re responding.
New projects around the country inspiring me at the moment are… a lot of what’s happening in New York City. When I lived in West Chelsea, there was a development going up across the street from me. Zaha Hadid was the architect, and the building had these incredible curves that just hugged the High Line. It was incredible.
The last book I read was… Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I’m currently reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I tend to read biographies. I like to understand what drives people who lead the way in a specific industry. I like to see the obstacles they’ve encountered and how they got past them. I also like to see the qualities they have that make them successful.
I splurge on… pampering myself. I’ll go for a massage; I just started reiki. I love to go to the gym. I’ll treat myself to one of those boutique workouts, bootcamps or boxing. I’ll get a mani-pedi to take care of myself. You’ve gotta find time for that, right?
When I want to relax I… go to the beach. I love the beach. I have a place in Margate that I spend the summer in with my family. It’s great.
My liquor cabinet is usually stocked with… Bud Light all the way. I’m not even going to make something up. Give me a Bud Light, and I’m happy. I would have to say I’m a cheap date.
The last time I doubted myself was… I have to say, I don’t really doubt myself. I make it a point to live with no regrets. I think everything happens for a reason, and I think if you look back at your past, you’ll see that something you may have thought was a negative eventually turned into a positive. I always trust my gut.
For women trying to break into this field and rise up, I’d say… never take “no” for an answer. That’s just a rule that I like to live by. I think that if you believe in something and you feel strongly about something, never take “no” for an answer. Stick to your guns. I also think mentoring is very important. If you find someone whom you really admire, someone whom you can really learn from, you shouldn’t think twice about asking that person to mentor you.
I get most excited about… my work because I love what I do. Everyday is something new, and you can’t predict it. That’s the beauty of it. It’s fun, exciting and keeps you on your toes. But I also love downtime because you have to have balance.
Having a hand in shaping South Philly’s future… really gives me such a sense of pride. I can’t explain it. My parents grew up here right on Broad Street, just three blocks down. My brother was born on Broad Street. I spent my young years here as a child with family and my grandparents. Everybody was in South Philadelphia, and I still have family in South Philadelphia. They drive by the site and take pictures and send them to me. The connection that I have just from being from this area and knowing what it was and knowing what it’s become — and knowing we’re able to continue to feed and grow off of that — just gives me such a sense of pride.
I admire people who…have an incredible sense of integrity, somebody who tells you that they’re going to do something and they do it.
I’d describe my design style as…. contemporary. I like clean lines. I like neutral colors. I really like the look and feel of stone, which we used a lot of at Lincoln Square. Stone gives a little bit of a cold feel, but then you warm up the room with other design elements. I like that contrast.
The best career advice I’ve ever received is… take time to develop your own relationships because relationships are really meaningful in this industry.
In ten years I see myself… as the COO of a publicly traded real estate company, and I’d also like to do development in my spare time. This is something that I enjoy doing, so I never see myself not doing it.