Real Estate: Race to the Top

Pent-up demand propels Philadelphia's new penthouse market.

Nothing evokes the romance of urban living more than the word penthouse. And nothing, with very few exceptions, evokes Philly living less.

But that’s changing as fast as our skyline. As condo buildings with multimillion-dollar units rise all over Center City, buyers and developers alike are looking up, up, up for the best mix of views and amenities. While the typical Philly condo buyer tends to be either an empty nester or a young professional, potential penthouse owners are more often working entrepreneurs, says condo mogul Allan Domb, which may be a clue to their habit of knocking on doors that haven’t even been put up yet. Take the 43-story Murano at 21st and Market. The site isn’t much more than a foundation pit—units aren’t scheduled to deliver until 2008—but one of its penthouses was recently sold to someone who approached the development team out of the blue. “We’re certainly not going to turn people away,” chuckles developer Peter Shaw. A similar walk-in snapped up the first of two 30th-story penthouses at Carl Dranoff’s Symphony House, expected to open next April. The unit, a 4,700-square-foot, five-bedroom bi-level with 1,800 square feet of terrace space, sold for around $4 million.

Six of the penthouses in the first two towers at Waterfront Square, on the Delaware just north of Spring Garden, sold without much of a marketing effort, says sales and marketing director Izhar Atzmon, as did two penthouses in a third building that hasn’t yet broken ground. (Two units remain available for summer occupancy: 3,300 square feet for $2.7 million and 3,500 for $3 million.)

At the pinnacle of this niche, three properties are vying for the title of priciest Philly condo ever—depending on your definition. The eventual buyer of the penthouse at Mandeville Place, the 43-story Richard Meier building planned for 24th and Walnut, can choose between a 12,000-square-foot duplex or an 18,000-square-foot triplex. Though pricing hasn’t been set, outside sources peg the space at $1,000 per square foot, or as much as $18 million.

Using the industry metric of price per square foot, however, lends weight to developer Craig Spencer’s claim that his Residences at the Ritz-­Carlton—a condo tower sharing the block, brand and services of the famous hotel—will take the prize: His three penthouse shells of 9,000 to 10,500 square feet will run at $1,200 per—and that’s before laying a single slab of marble in the master bath.

The third and final contender? The penthouse slated for ARCWheeler’s 10 Rittenhouse Square: a 9,300-square-foot unit with five terraces and unobstructed views from all four sides, carrying a pre-construction price of $12.5 million—or nearly $1,350 per square foot.