The facade isn’t even complete yet, let alone the interior. But just as leasing is already under way for the residential units in Southstar Lofts, Dranoff Properties is now looking for restaurant and retail tenants for the building’s ground-floor commercial space.
If the past is any guide, anyone considering opening a restaurant would do well to consider the space. Three new restaurants and a reincarnated favorite currently occupy choice space in Dranoff buildings on the Avenue of the Arts. Two of them have won high praise: modern Indian restaurant Tashan at 777 South Broad has garnered wide critical acclaim, and Top Chef Kevin Sbraga’s eponymous modern American restaurant, Sbraga, was named one of the “Best New Restaurants in the Country” by Esquire magazine last year. Both have restaurants for next-door neighbors as well: new Asian fusion eatery Chinamoto is right next to Tashan, and old contemporary Italian favorite Girasole is behind Sbraga on Spruce Street.
“It’s about building community,” Dranoff Properties CEO Carl Dranoff said in a news release. “Our desire to bring outstanding restaurants and retail to Southstar Lofts cannot be understated. In building this property, we wanted to create a unique experience in city living – an experience that includes restaurant and/or retail. To that end, the space at ground level has been properly vented for a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen but can also work to accommodate any retailer that wishes to make this new address along the Avenue of the Arts its home.”
The street floor contains 10,079 square feet of leasable space. Southstar Lofts is designed to be a hinge on the Avenue of the Arts, joining the more intense Center City segment of the thoroughfare with its lower-key South Philly segment, and to project South Broad Street’s increased energy further south.
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We also had a chance late last week to catch up with progress on Southstar Lofts, Carl Dranoff’s newest mixed-use project on the Avenue of the Arts at Broad and South streets.
When last we checked in on this project, in July, we wrote that progress had been somewhat slow since the March groundbreaking, with steel framing only up as far as the first floor. The project appears to be moving along more smartly now; as of the end of October, framing and subfloors are complete and exterior walls are being applied.
The 85-unit, environmentally conscious residential/commercial project now appears on track for completion in the spring of 2014. Meanwhile, the rumor mill is abuzz with talk that Dranoff may be considering his next move on Broad Street even as he pursues the One Riverside apartment tower on the Schuylkill’s east bank. If we receive any definite word about new developments on the Avenue of the Arts, we will report the news here.
As the head of the real estate development firm that bears his name, Carl Dranoff got back into the game of neighborhood transformation by finding discarded gems in neighborhoods nobody thought had a chance and polishing them to a high gloss. All this, however, was a variation on a familiar theme – he had done this before with Historic Landmarks for Living. His career would go off on a new course when the City of Philadelphia issued a request for proposals to develop a site it had assembled in the middle of the Avenue of the Arts, at Broad and Pine streets.
Dranoff responded – and his successful proposal launched him into the field of new construction and established him as the leading champion of yet another Philadelphia neighborhood on the rise. That in turn would lead to his being chosen to reclaim one more discarded gem in the city’s historic silk-stocking district.
But before we get to the tale of 10 Rittenhouse, let’s start with Symphony House, the project that made him a major player on the Avenue of the Arts.
The development represented a unique collaboration between a for-profit residential developer and a nonprofit arts organization, both of which got what they wanted out of the deal. The project allowed the Philadelphia Theatre Company, which nearly went out of existence in the early 1990s, to rise into the front ranks of the city’s professional theater companies with a stunning new home; for Dranoff, it offered yet another chance to turn a no man’s land into a vibrant round-the-clock community.
“At that time – 2003-2004, coming out of the depressed economy post-9/11, people were starting to drive up the price of new housing again,” he said. “I began to notice that many young people who were forming families were leaving apartments and going into condos and homes. We decided we should be protective of our brand” by building an ownership property as well.
While some architecture critics gave it raspberries, Symphony House was a huge success both as residential project and as a work of integrated urbanism. Its retail spaces have been filled with a mix of fine and casual places to dine since the day it opened, with Sbraga, one of the most highly acclaimed new restaurants of 2011, as a current prime tenant. The restaurants in turn feed off theater patrons and residents above, and the residents have all the amenities a great city offers right at their doorstep.
“We make our projects so compellingly attractive that even though we’re pioneers in a neighborhood, people want to live there,” he explained. “We have great amenities, staffing and services in our buildings, but in Symphony House we went even further with the Suzanne Roberts Theatre,” the PTC’s home.
“We called it ‘authentic home entertainment’ because you could take an elevator down to a live theater.” And after a series of hits and misses, the development also has two solid dining winners in Sbraga, star chef Kevin Sbraga’s new American establishment, and Girasole, the revival of a popular modern Italian restaurant that had been in Washington Square West.
From Symphony House, Dranoff has gone on to do his part to fulfill Mayor Ed Rendell’s vision of a vibrant cultural district stretching all the way from City Hall to Washington Avenue by building more new mixed-use residential-retail developments along South Broad Street. His next project was 777 South Broad, a luxury rental residence with 186 apartments and a mix of businesses at street level, including Tashan, a critically praised modern Indian restaurant. The building’s South Beach-meets-South Philly architecture added some zing to a previously forlorn block of South Broad as well.
Currently rising at Broad and South streets is Dranoff’s third Avenue of the Arts development, Southstar Lofts, another residential-retail project that seeks to reanimate a prime intersection on Broad Street.
With Symphony House, Dranoff said, “we proved the skeptics wrong again, because prior to our arrival on the Avenue of the Arts there was no residential development. We have more to come on the avenue, but the projects aren’t ready to be announced yet.”
Dranoff’s success at creating lively, urbane places to live has led others to seek him out for his expertise now. Lower Merion Township chose his company to develop a mixed-use residential-commercial project on a surface parking lot in downtown Ardmore, and the company is partnering with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center to develop a 23-story, 240-unit apartment building across from the theater and concert hall complex in downtown Newark – Dranoff Properties’ first project outside the Greater Philadelphia region.
Then there’s 10 Rittenhouse Square, the luxury condo designed by Robert A.M. Stern overlooking and incorporating the former Rittenhouse Club right on Rittenhouse Square. A Federal bankruptcy judge named Dranoff the receiver of the property along with investment firm iStar Financial, and together the two companies have pulled off a dramatic turnaround in the project’s fortunes. Dranoff’s contributions have taken the form of major improvements that include a full amenities floor and savvy marketing of the unsold units with an eye on preserving value.
“We were able to turn around 10 Rittenhouse without having to resort to auctions or price-cutting,” Dranoff said. “In fact, that was a stipulations we insisted on when we joined the project – I would not auction off units or price cut, because that would hurt the existing tenants.”
Instead, he said, “we have been able to raise prices as we went, and we are now selling units for $1000 a square foot, which is a remarkable achievement.”
Tomorrow: Dranoff offers his take on the future and the evolution of the city’s neighborhoods. Also: some advice from Dranoff for those interested in real estate as a career.
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In February and March we reported on the unofficial and official start of construction of Southstar Lofts, the new Carl Dranoff project at the Northeast corner of Broad and South streets on the Avenue of the Arts. Since that time, progress seems to be running sort of slow. As the pictures below indicate though, steel is rising from the site. While it is only the first floor, it is great to see some verticality to a project that for months has been a muddy hole in the ground.
As we have reported previously, this development will combine 85 rental apartments with 10,045 square feet of street-level commercial space, and garage parking for 30 cars and 25 bikes. Its siting and massing preserve light and air for Rodman Street abutters by putting the bulk of the units on the Broad Street corner.
Southstar Lofts will also feature an imaginative public art component called “Light Play” that will be featured on the facade of the building along Broad Street. We’re ready for that installation to go up and add to the vibrancy and brand of the Avenue of the Arts.
Richard Florida fires back at Joel Kotkin: No, I haven’t given up on the creative class; Inga Saffron does a quick take on Southstar Lofts (her verdict: Carl Dranoff’s architectural taste is getting better); Next City conducts a class analysis of SEPTA’s fare hike proposal, which it says will be a boon for suburbanites and reverse commuters and a bane for everyone else; and guess who’s a tax deadbeat?