Royal Theater site on South Street to be developed by new owner

Another developer is taking over Carl Dranoff's plan to build apartments and retail at the site of the long-defunct Royal Theater on South Street. 

Robert Roskamp, best known as the backer of the Roskamp Institute, a medical-research center in Sarasota, Fla., purchased the 1524 South St. property from music mogul Kenny Gamble's Universal Cos. last month, Roskamp said in an interview Monday.

Dranoff had been working with Gamble on a proposal to build about 50 apartments with ground-floor retail there. Under the plan, Dranoff and Gamble agreed to preserve the facade of the theater, which once hosted performances by the likes of Fats Waller and Bessie Smith.

Roskamp said he intends to stick largely to that original proposal, although he plans for-sale townhouses along the Kater Street-facing side of the property, rather than apartments. He hopes to submit an application soon to the city for permission to demolish the theater, minus the facade. 

The developer, who divides his time between Sarasota and Chester County, had largely focused on senior housing during his career, with projects including Freedom Village in Coatesville and the Inn at Sarasota Bay Club in Florida.  He said he currently dedicates much of his time to the Roskamp Institute, which investigates causes of and potential therapies for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's.

No senior housing component is anticipated at the Royal Theater site, he said.

Dranoff said in an interview that he opted for the project's sale to concentrate on his larger development projects, such as the SLS Lux and Hyde hotel-residential hybrid towers proposed nearby on South Broad Street and the One Theater Square apartment tower now being built in Newark, N.J. 

A ceremony is planned next week to dedicate a prismic art installation at another of Dranoff's projects, the Southstar Lofts at Broad and South Streets.

Gamble opted for the Royal Theater sale to focus on his educational initiatives, according to Dranoff.  A phone message left with Eve Lewis, Universal’s vice president for marketing, yielded no immediate response.

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