Features: The New Neighborhood Nabobs


Northern Liberties
Bart Blatstein, 50
What he imagines it will be:
A “creative class” paradise with live/work spaces for artists, all centered on a piazza.
What it is now: A block called Liberties Walk with a spa, a pet boutique, and apartments that price out nearly everyone except creative lawyers and creative doctors.
Historical fetish: Liberties Walk is a pedestrian-only alleyway.
Developer’s embarrassing past: Delaware Avenue strip malls.
Soft spot: Blatstein brags about slashing rent for tenants with proper bohemian credentials.
How bad it used to be: Just across from the abandoned Schmidt’s brewery, Blatstein found prostitution, drugs and homelessness.
Crisis of conscience: Blatstein reportedly had bought up NoLibs properties with the plan of developing a Kmart before having a midlife New Urbanist epiphany.
Takes inspiration from: Trendy social-science manifesto The Rise of the Creative Class, by demographer Richard Florida.
Opposition: Hipsters who haven’t been co-opted by Blatstein and are afraid he’s built Old City North.

Conshohocken, Norristown
Brian O’Neill, 45
What he imagines it will be:
A resurgent corridor of old industrial river towns along the Schuylkill, including the jewel in any third-tier city’s crown: a minor-league ballpark for Norristown.
What it is now: Conshohocken hosts a booming office market, particularly for companies fleeing city taxes. Norristown is a brownfield-ridden county seat.
Historical fetish: Faux-stucco facades featuring prominent clocks. (People now carry these on their wrists.)
How bad it used to be: Unused smokestacks, cyanide oozing from the ground, soaring unemployment.
Eureka moment: In the late 1980s, O’Neill saw the values of industrial properties tanking and offices soaring. Conversion gave him an opportunity to buy low and sell high.
Opposition: Chemical half-lifes.

13th Street
Tony Goldman, 60
What he imagines it will be:
Philadelphia’s SoHo, with a less ­snappy, geographically abstruse name. (Goldman calls it B3 — for “Blocks Below Broad”.)
What it is now: One-and-a-half blocks of bourgeois heaven: a Stephen Starr restaurant, an overpriced gelateria, some housewares and clothes stores, a handful of converted lofts, and a holdout porn theater.
Historical fetish: Goldman loves small streets.
Where he did this before: SoHo, Miami Beach.
How bad it used to be: Check-cashing stores, prostitutes, and a burgeoning porn sector.
Eureka moment: According to his résumé, Goldman “discovered Center City” in 1998, when former Preservation Alliance president Don Meginley convinced him to go property-hunting here.
Opposition: Goldman talked up his grandiose vision early — and absentee landowners took his bluster seriously and held out for more money.

Camden
Carl Dranoff, 57
What he imagines it will be:
Philadelphia’s Hoboken, with pricey lofts for commuters.
What it is now: Still poor, unsafe and jobless — with one Dranoff condo and another to come.
Historical fetish: Dranoff’s first Camden building, the Victor, is a restored RCA Victor factory.
Where he did it before: Old City, renovating factories into lofts.
How bad it used to be: Camden was America’s violent-crime capital.
When it was that bad: Two years ago.
Eureka moment: In 1999, Dranoff was drawn to visit what is now the Victor and exulted, “Look at the bones! This building has great bones!”
Takes inspiration from: Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, favored by frustrated capitalists and self-pitying teens.
Opposition: Even among buyers who like rough edges, a Camden zip code might be a bit much.

East Falls
Mark Sherman, 46
What he imagines it will be:
An artist’s colony that “feels like an Early American village.”
What it is now: Sherman’s development, the Mills, is barely half-occupied with residents; a new restaurant, Verge, is getting good reviews.
Historical fetish: He converted a Civil War blanket factory.
Street cred: Raised in the nearby Schuylkill Falls projects.
How bad it used to be: In the heart of the suburban-style city neighborhood was a dead business district on Ridge Avenue.
Takes inspiration from: Website features pretentious quote from Marc Chagall about “the dignity of the artist.”
Style: Self-consciously artsy.
Opposition: Falls residents afraid they’re living in the new Manayunk.

Manayunk
Dan Neducsin, 62
What he imagined it would be:
In the late 1980s, Neducsin began converting the hillside neighborhood into an energetic retail strip.
What it is now: Despite a stable post-frat-bar scene, big-name stores and an annual arts festival, the allure of Neducsin’s Manayunk has faded. Ambitious restaurants he developed with chef Derek Davis have shuttered.
Historical fetish: Keeping attention on a no-longer-navigable canal.
Developer’s embarrassing past: A chain of discount stores called Mr. Goodbuys.
How bad it used to be: Up from a grubby canal sat a jumble of rowhouses and empty storefronts.
Eureka moment: When he went into real estate, Neducsin (with then-partner Steven Erlbaum) settled on inexpensive office space in Manayunk — and then started buying up everything nearby.
Style: The type of yuppiedom that karmically belongs midway between Rittenhouse Square and Bryn Mawr.
Opposition: Changing ideas of cool and ongoing parking woes.

Brewerytown
John Westrum, 41
What he imagines it will be:
The next Fairmount, a townhouse neighborhood along Girard Avenue with easy access to both Center City and the park.
What it is now: A construction site, a dilapidated Red Bell Brewery, and an empty warehouse with broken windows.
Historical fetish: Westrum will turn the last of what were once 11 neighborhood breweries into condos, but he’s reviving the place name “Brewerytown.”
Developer’s embarrassing past: Suburban tract houses.
How bad it used to be: In the blight, someone hid an illegally operating horse stable.
Eureka moment: Westrum began to sense an anti-sprawl movement in the late 1990s and looked to take his business into the city.
Takes inspiration from: Mayor Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, which galvanized development in Brewerytown.
Opposition: All the usual problems you don’t find in the suburbs: anti-gentrification activists who fear that Westrum will drive out lower-class black residents, and building-trades unions demanding high wages.