Saturday, February 28, 2015

POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2015, 1:45 PM

The University of Pennsylvania says its trustees have approved plans to turn part of a former DuPont Co. paint factory and lab into "Pennovation Center," a 58,000 sf, $37.5 million, three-story office and lab center, plus landscaping, signs, and infrastructure improvements, on the Schuylkill on the 23-acre South Philadelphia site the school purchased after DuPont shut it down six years ago.

The center, designed by New York architects HWKN (Hollwich Kushner) -- KSS is architect of record -- will be "Penn’s hub for innovation, research and entrepreneurialism," with research scientists, students and for-profit corporations working on joint projects, Penn says here. "The buidling's northern facade bursts forth from the grid" of the factory building; the glass north side faces Center City and the Penn campus to its west. It's also meant to recall the home garages startups are supposed to use as their early offices.

Penn will offer "co-working space" to small firms in need, plus "wet and dry labs with shared lab-support equipment, meeting rooms and social areas. The Penn Engineering Field Research Center on the top floor will combine "integrating computer science and electrical, mechanical and systems engineering" to develop products for "robotics, in the Internet of things and in embedded systems." Engineering lab to open later this year, other projects to follow.

POSTED: Thursday, February 26, 2015, 9:23 AM

(Adds comments from owner Dan Keating) The former Hyatt Regency hotel at Penn's Landing reopened today as the 348-room Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing, operated by Pyramid Hotel Group under Pyramid chief operating officer Jim Dina. Restaurants include Keating's River Bar & Grill (full liquor license; steaks and scallops, cheesesteaks and burgers), named for owner and developer Daniel J. Keating III, who built the hotel 15 years ago; and Perks Cafe (breakfast). 

Why the switch? "I stiill like Hyatt. They're a wonderful company. But the power to draw people is stronger with Hilton" and its broad reservation system, Keating told me. He said he brought Pyramid in because he liked the work the firm has done with hotels in Boston's harbor district. 

"It's an exciting time" to be in the hotel business in Philadelphia, with Pope Francis and the Democratic National Convention scheduled over the next year and a half, boosting the city's tourism profile,  Keating added. As an incentive to heavy users, the Hilton chain will grant guests an extra 1,000 points under the Hilton Worldwide chain's Hilton HHonors discount program through Aug. 26. 

POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 3:45 PM

Former Philadelphia real estate broker turned developer David Dinenberg (he worked with David Grasso on the Valley Square center in Bucks) says he has raised $2 million, from investors including Lindy Snider, daughter of Comcast Spectacor chairman Ed Snider, for his firm Kind Financial, a Los Angeles company that bills itself "the financial solutions platform provider for the quickly-growing legal cannabis industry."

Dinenberg tells me Kind is developing a smartphone app which, linked to a prepaid debit account, will enable pot-related businesses to close transactions without hauling lots of dangerous cash around. "Traditional credit cards and PayPal are not participating in the industry," so Kind's program, to be launched in April, will "help alleviate those concerns."  He deliclined to name dathe banks that are talking to him about cooperating with Kind transactions.

Dinenberg says the idea came to him in 2012, while he was still a Philadelphian, watching a TV show about the cash problems of pot growers. "This is my life," he says he decided. Focusing on California's big medical-marijuana market, he moved his family to Los Angeles -- Hollywood -- to start the company. Does he worry about his family and dope? Dinenberg says he's shown his kids Dr. Sanjay Gupta's TV shows (Weeds and Weeds II) to teach them "marijuana is a medicine and not a drug."  

POSTED: Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 2:18 PM

Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, the largest investment bank and brokerage based in Philadelphia, says it has hired five new stock analysts and four bond team members. The hires follow a string of recent departures amid a general consolidation of the investment banking business. 

In a statement, Andrew Maddaloni, head of equity research since replacing Gary Schatz in December, listed four new stock-watchers:
- Michael Gaugler is Senior Analyst for Utilities and Water Infrastructure. A past Janney employee, he worked previously Brean Capital (where he was rated #1 for gas utilities by Starmine) and Boenning and Scattergood in West Conshohocken. (This column has previously reported Gaugler's move.)
- Robert Stevenson is Senior Analyst for real estate investment trusts. He has followed REITs and homebuilders since 1997 and was previously at Macquarie/Fox Pitt Kelton and Morgan Stanley.
Gaugler and Stevenson have also been named Managing Directors.
- Mitchel Penn is Senior Analyst covering business-development companeis and mortgage REITs. He was previously a bond analyst at Bill Miller's Legg Mason Value Trust and related bond funds.
- Nathan Judge is Senior Analyst coverign Master Limited Partnerships and other pipeline and utility companies. He joins Janney from Atlantic Equities, where he was rated #1 by European investors over five years. He also worked at the former Lehman Bros., and Goldman Sachs.
- David Lebowitz is Senior Analyst covering Biotechnology, including cancer and autoimmune therapies as well as RNA, gene-therapy and regenerative treatments. He previously worked at Piper Jaffray and Thomas Weisel Partners. Lebowitz is also a Janney Director.

Also, Mike McNamara, Janney National Sales Manager-Institutional Fixed Income, listed three new bond analysts and a promotion:
- Nancy Fong will head the taxable-bond sales team's credit sales group as a Director. She also worked at Pierpont Securities and, for 28 years, at Smith Barney/Citi.
- Scott Walters, High Yield (junk-bond) salesman, joins from Wunderlich Securities and, prevoiusly, Bear Stearns, Freeman and Samco.
- James Kalamaras also joins the High Yield team. He was previously at GMP/Miller Tabak and TD Waterhouse.
Fong, Walters and Kalamaras are Janney Directors.
- Darby McDermott joins as fixed-income desk analyst on the institutional desk, for investment-rated securities. She moves over from Janney's Private Client Group.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 4:50 PM

UPDATE: 210-214 N. 12th St. -- the former Sigma Sound Studios, where David Bowie recorded "Young Americans", where Billy Joel developed "Captain Jack," where Patti LaBelle and the many artists signed to Gamble and Huff and other classic labels recorded for years -- has been sold by Sine Partners LP/New Sigma LLC and Conestoga Bank, to a group of Philadelphia-based investors, says broker Jim Gorecki, of Fidelity Commercial, who represented the sellers. Joe Tarsia, whose family had long owned the studio and the gold records that decorated its walls, sold to Mario and Noemi Santoro in 2003; Sigma shut down last year and the current property loan fell behind, leading to the sale.

The buyers plan to convert the space into homes, offices and maybe retail space, after "extensive renovations," says Michael Barmash, broker at Colliers International's Philadelphia office, who represented the buyers. The studio may have been historic, but with digital tools "you don't have to go to a studio anymore," Barmash told me. The two-story former studio and adjoining space totalling 13,900 sf listed for $2.2 million but sold for $1.55 million. 

Gorecki tells me Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus (corrected) and other artists recorded at the Sigma in Philadelphia as recently as last year. The firm had other locations, "but the main headquarters studio was on 12th St." Master tapes and historical items were shipped off to the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design at Drexel University, that increasingly well-known digital-music center, under Prof. Toby Seay. 

POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 4:12 PM

Quattro, a marketing and advertising agency based in Berwyn that counts Comcast, New Penn Financial and Ditech as clients, says it has acquired Downingtown-based Fwd Direct and renamed the six-person business, headed by Fwd co-founder Tom Pitcherella, as Quattro Healthcare Marketing.

Quattro clients includie Blue Cross insurers in Harrisburg, Arkansas and Nebraska, among others. Terms were not disclosed. The deal brings total Quattro employment to 51, up from around 20 a year ago. 

POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 3:20 PM

I'll call him the Boiler Man, a Philadelphia master tradesman whose mechanical work maintains indoor equilibria for some of the Philadelphia area's most successful professionals and the places they hang out. He tells me he has seen the future of his business, and many others, in the three Western states that have legalized recreational drug use (Washington DC plans to follow tonight; N.J. and Del. have limited medicinal-marijuana laws).

Boiler Man has serviced his first three marijuana-industrial clients west of the Rockies, and returned, inspired, to his outwardly-modest but inwardly-Wonka-rich warehouse just outside Philadelphia, as an eager believer in the proliferation of both medicinal (THC) and recreational (cannibinol) marijuana extracts and the many business opportunities to follow. Be at ease, he told me: "It's not like everyone is walking down the street smoking pot" in newly-legal territory. Indeed, in pot-friendly towns like Boulder, smoking anything in public is illegal most places. State law on driving while high is also pretty strict. The emphasis really is on therapy and recreation...

"I can't wait for this to be legal in Pennsylvania," the Boiler Man told me, over seafood scraps and browned starches at Jones near our newsroom. "I think it will, and sooner than you think. Gov. Wolf wants it." But will the more conservative General Assembly go along? "You got gay marriage already," he told me. "That's a sign of the direction Pennsylvania is headed." Plus, money! He's heard talk of a trade-off: in exchange for privatizing some aspect of the State Stores, the Liquor Control Board will get marijuana-surveillance powers. "They're perfectly set up to do that job." All that licensing experience.

POSTED: Tuesday, February 24, 2015, 2:13 PM

Philadelphia investment banker Andrew T. Greenberg, the Fairmount Partners managing director who was Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey's whiz-kid Commerce Secretary way back at the start of the 1990s, sheds light on Florida Gov. Rick Scott's shaky claims that his state is a comparative tax haven:

"Pennsylvania taxes are lower for S-corporations, limited-liability companies, and other entities whose profits flow through to the owners and are then taxed at the individual rate" -- in short, for small firms, professional-service firms and the great majority of businesses, which Florida more often treats like corporations and taxes at the higher corporate rate. Pennsylvania charges its usual 3.09% individual tax on personal profits from these companies -- a fraction of its nearly 10% corporate tax rate (down from a peak of 12.25%).

Sounds good? But this exemption for most small businesses is part of the reason that Pennsylvania "actually gets the worst of two worlds: lower revenues from business, as your article notes," compared to Florida; plus, "a reputation for being a higher-tax environment, based on the corporate net income tax base rate," which most businesses don't actually pay, Greenberg added. 

About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at or 215 854 5194.

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