Posh new Philly club to target city's emerging youthful elite

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Artist's rendering of lounge with terrace at the members-only Fitler Club planned at 2400 Market St.

When it was known as the Marketplace Design Center, 2400 Market St. was a lightly trafficked building in what remained a fringe neighborhood at the far west of Philadelphia’s central business district.

Hospitality financier David Gutstadt now wants to turn part of the building, which will also soon host Aramark Corp.’s new world headquarters, into a center for the social lives of the city’s emerging business, tech, and cultural elite.

Gutstadt’s $50 million-to-$60 million plan for what’s to be called the Fitler Club, unveiled at a press event Thursday, involves fitness facilities, fine dining, hotel rooms, coworking offices, event spaces, and other amenities encompassing 75,000 square feet over parts of the building’s lower three floors.

It’s a local take on the new wave of high-end private membership clubs – such as those making up the London-based Soho House chain – that are popping up in some of the world’s more prosperous cities. It underscores Philadelphia’s rising fortunes.

The decision to place it at Center City’s far-western edge overlooking the Schuylkill, meanwhile, highlights central Philadelphia’s shifting center of gravity toward University City.

Gutstadt, whose background includes working on hotel deals at Goldman Sachs Group and Morgan Stanley, as well as a stint devising a hospitality concept for a venture involving Related Companies and the Equinox fitness chain, said he hoped his Philadelphia club would the first in a national network.

His plan has attracted about 75 financial backers, including basketball hall-of-famer and former naval officer David Robinson’s Admiral Capital Group, he said.

“Why should we have to wait to import something? Why can’t we do something great that’s for Philadelphians, by Philadelphians?” he said. “Why don’t we get the best example of something first here, then we can be an exporter?”

The Fitler Club is scheduled to open in early 2019. It will enter a market long dominated by old-line establishments, such as the Union League and the Racquet Club, spaces filled with elaborate chandeliers, oriental rugs, classical statuary, and oil paintings.

“When you look at the aesthetics and you walk in and you see 100 years of presidents of the club and a majority are old white men, I think the younger demographic says, ‘I don’t want to join my father’s country club; I want my own identity,’ ” said Zack Bates, chief executive of Newport Beach, Calif.-based members’ clubs consultancy Private Club Marketing.

The Fitler Club will feature food and beverage services managed by Vetri Family restaurant group co-founder Jeff Benjamin, with chef Kevin Sbraga, whose since-shuttered eateries include the fine-dining namesake Sbraga and the Fat Ham.

Also onsite will be a 14-room five-star hotel; a coworking center with 20 private offices, and 65 single-desk workstations; more than 10,000 square feet of event space that will spill out onto a deck over the Schuylkill; a fitness center with a 75-foot lap pool; and a screening room that will feature first-run films, Gutstadt said.

“The whole theory is, you want people to activate the space all day, all night,” he said. “So what are the elements you can use to keep this space activated?”

The club’s management plans to build up its membership in phases, growing from an initial cap of around 1,000 to about 2,500 in coming years.

It will be priced in line with similar clubs in other cities, Gutstadt said. That translates to initiation fees of $1,500 to $2,500, plus monthly dues of $250 to $500, Bates said.

The number of Philadelphians able to afford those fees may be small compared with the likes of New York, Miami, and West Hollywood, Calif., But it’s growing: The number of Philadelphia households earning more than $100,000 a year increased 25 percent to 85,455 in 2015 from five years earlier, according to calculations based on U.S. Census data.

Jacob Cooper, a managing director with brokerage MSC Retail in Philadelphia, said he thought there would be solid demand for memberships from long-term residents and recent transplants seeking a place to have most of their social, business and exercise needs met under one roof, in like company.

The club will be well-placed on the Schuylkill waterfront to draw members from those in medical and technology fields in University City — which includes sites proposed to Amazon.com Inc. as potential locations for a second headquarters — as well as from the emerging business leaders in western Center City, where Comcast Corp. continues to expand, Cooper said.

Gutstadt happens to be the son-in-law of Philadelphia real estate entrepreneur Carl Dranoff, among the city’s first contemporary developers to discover the Schuylkill waterfront, and he previously worked for Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds, a co-owner of the 2400 Market St. building.

But he said the location rose to the top of list on its own merits during the six months he spent scouring Philadelphia for the right site.

“It really is the new center of Center City,” he said.

Staff writer Michael Klein contributed to this article.