Developer Carl Dranoff has a history of going in early -- maybe too early. His Packard Building rehab came more than a decade before the North Broad Street ex-factory district became a popular condo-apartment-restaurant destination. His Left Bank in University City, his conversion of the RCA Victrola factory in Camden, were also ahead of the market. His Locust on the Park was nine years ahead of the Schuylkill park rehab that gave it the name.
Dranoff's South Broad projects, by contrast, have been timely. His Symphony House condos and 777 South Broad apartments are full enough that he's started work on the 85-unit Southstar apartments. "It's not the biggest project we've done, but a crucial project," says Dranoff, as crews pound pilings along Broad Street to protect the subway.
"This stands at what was a dead zone -- right at the crossroads of South St., our bohemian avant-garde counterculture street -- and by the way, the west side of South St. is absolutely booming - and the arts-culture-dining scene of Broad Street, the Kimmel, the University of the Arts, the night life scene, the closest thing we have in Philadelphia to a 24/7 street. Our own Park Ave. Our Broadway-meets-Central Park West."
Dranoff bought the property from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., that city/Chamber of Commerce land-banking partnership, which "finally decided this was a good time to move forward here," and put out a request for proposals in 2011. The architect is JKR (Jerry Roller's firm), the builder is all-union Clemens Construction, both of which are based on Walnut, a few blocks away. There's to be a fancy restaurant (Dranoff says he's looking), and a couple of stores, and corner-mounted glass prisms rainbowing sunlight over the canopy shielding the South Street subway entrance. In short, "You don't need a car to live here."
He's also hoping to start later this year on 123 apartments near the Ardmore Septa station, with a parking deck and a row of stores along Cricket Ave, near the long-delayed, state-subsidized Septa station upgrade, which has been delayed by federal-state-township-Septa-Amtrak misalignment since at least the early 2000s. "We've been waiting in the queue for five years," Dranoff told me. "In general, in Lower Merion, zoning is very difficult to secure. There have not been a lot of apartments built in the township since the 1970s. There is a lot of pent-up demand." The Nolen and O'Neill projects on Righters Mill Road are also near approval.
Will 1,000 or more new apartments change Lower Merion? "It's a big township, with over 50,000 people," says Dranoff. "There are plenty of apartment dwellers living at (Dranoff's) Venice Island in Manayunk and other places who are commuting to Lower Merion who would rather live (in Lower Merion.) This Ardmore project is an anchor that will revitalize that business area."