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

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.