Is Kenny Gamble Becoming a Blightlord?

Part of one of Philadelphia’s most beloved cultural landmarks, the Royal Theater, may soon be demolished–despite the fact that it’s owned by Kenny Gamble, who professed he would pay tribute to its legendary history by transforming it into the anchor of a new South Street West entertainment mecca. That was 13 years ago, and the building–the first black-run theater in the city, and one that played host to acts like Bessie Smith and Fats Waller–has been in decline since then, with Gamble having done nothing to act on initial promises.

On July 9, the Daily News’ David Gambacorta wrote an article about the Royal that cast a critical light on Gamble’s stewardship of the building, and his current desire to tear it down for commercial development. Now the City Paper’s Ryan Briggs takes a look at much more of Gamble’s real estate portfolio as Universal Companies, which was co-founded with his wife, Faatimeh.

It turns out that a now familiar hole in the ground on South 15th Street that has been there for two years–the one with the sign that says “Another Development by Universal Companies”–had been planned as the site for the Gambles’ 4,000-square-foot home.

Additionally, Kenny Gamble, and his wife’s company, Salaam Enterprises, own 10 other vacant properties in the surrounding area, scattered around the eastern end of the Graduate Hospital neighborhood. Some of these properties encompass thousands of square feet and sit on highly trafficked blocks, such as 1438-40 South St. and 1442-44 South St. Although the properties are fenced off, many have sat empty for over a decade, while the surrounding properties have developed at a staggering pace.

Briggs goes on to cite other another building that’s similarly neglected, and though he admits financial problems may be to blame, “none of the mentioned properties is listed for sale.” This is key to developer Ori Feibush’s beef with Gamble as well. In the end, though Briggs doesn’t call Gamble a blightlord, he certainly asks if that’s the ill wind that’s blowing.

Kenny Gamble’s blight collection [CP]