Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017, 10:23 AM
When it comes to deciding between urban and suburban life, homeowners and renters are confronted with many trade-offs. Among the largest: whether to ditch the quintessential yard for a higher-density, more walkable lifestyle.
Occasionally, however, home shoppers can find a mix: Suburban municipalities have increasingly adopted walkable town centers, bringing compact shopping, dining, and recreation districts to traditionally sprawling spots. Urban developers, meanwhile, have tried to diversify high-rise buildings, adding green spaces, such as rooftop parks and gardens as public amenities.
Yet, sometimes, urban-home shoppers stumble upon a rare sweet spot: a Philadelphia home that borders a city park, providing a mix of urban living and suburban space all in one place.
The newest Center City ultra-luxury apartment building is marketing the uncommon perk of not just one — but two — parks at its tenants’ doorstep.
The Lyndon at the Curtis, the collection of 63 apartments inside the historic Curtis Center, is now leasing after a soft opening last summer. Situated between Washington Square and Independence Square, the apartments offer views of two of Philadelphia’s premier parks — something that wasn’t possible to city residents during the building’s long commercial tenure.
“We only wanted to have units facing Independence Mall” and Washington Square, said Jennifer Rosenberg, development director for Keystone Property Group. “We’re about differentiating ourselves from the rest of the market, so having park views” helps.
The conversion to apartments is just a small piece of a larger plan to redevelop the Curtis Center, which, beginning in the early 1900s, was headquarters for the Curtis Publishing Co., responsible for periodicals and magazines including the Saturday Evening Post. In 2014, the 885,000-square-foot building was purchased by Keystone Property Group, of Conshohocken, and Mack-Cali Realty, of Edison, N.J., for $125 million in cash, with a plan to “reposition the property into a dynamic, mixed-use environment,” the parties said at the time. Since the transaction, Keystone Property Group has acquired Mack-Cali Realty’s partnership interest.
For the storied, block-long building — stretching from Sixth to Seventh Streets and from Walnut to Sansom Streets — the redevelopment plan meant scrapping its exclusively commercial use to create luxury apartments, which today take up 10 percent of the building’s space. The rest of the building will be occupied by ground-floor retail and offices.
But to successfully market luxury rental units amid the city’s current apartment-building boom, the Lyndon at the Curtis would need to stand out.
Its price tag alone is a good start.
With rent ranging from $2,145 a month for a one-bedroom to $9,345 a month for the most expensive penthouse, the units inside the 12-story Curtis Center are among the priciest collection of rentals to hit the Philadelphia market recently. The size of the units ranges from 597 to 2,014 square feet, with an average of 1,173. Some have two stories.
Certainly, the apartments are not the most expensive added to the Philadelphia market in recent history. Earlier this year, a three-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom penthouse unit at the Alison building on Rittenhouse Square was listed for $19,500 a month. Other apartments priced at more than $10,000 a month have been scattered across Society Hill and Center City in the past.
Still, the prices for units at the Lyndon at the Curtis — and the abundance of them — are the latest indicator of just how wealthy Philadelphia has become. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the share of Philadelphia households making $100,000 or more a year has surged 130 percent, from nearly 37,000 households in 2000 to 85,500 in 2015.
The building has been filling quickly since it began leasing in August. Only 18 apartments have completed construction, yet 21 of the 63 units — 33 percent — have been rented. That includes the most expensive unit, at $9,345 a month.
“No one in the city is building anything this big or this grand,” said Andrew Phillips, regional property manager at the Scully Co., which is handling leasing and property management for the building. “They certainly are not building anything with this kind of parking, internal storage, or the features that you see in the amenities.”
Plus, Phillips added, the Lyndon at the Curtis does not feel the need to offer concessions to attract tenants.
As more apartments are delivered to the Philadelphia market, buildings have in recent months been ramping up concessions — such as months of free rent or waived amenity fees. For example, the recently renovated Sterling Apartment Homes at 1815 John F. Kennedy Blvd. has been offering six weeks of free rent on select apartments, according to the building’s website. And Hanover North Broad is offering free rent until Jan. 1 on 13-month leases, the building announced on its website.
The concessions have arisen out of increased competition to attract or retain renters in the midst of Philadelphia’s abundant apartment supply. Between 2013 and 2016, a total of 6,000 new rental units were delivered to just Greater Center City, defined as the swath between both rivers and Girard Avenue and Tasker Street. In 2017 and 2018, another 4,100 units are expected.
The influx of units has sparked concern that Philadelphia could be approaching an apartment glut. In the second quarter of 2017, the apartment vacancy rate for Greater Center City was 9.4 percent, according to real estate firm REIS Inc., compared with 4.9 percent from two years ago. (REIS defines Greater Center City from river to river, and from Girard to Washington.)
In an interview earlier this fall, Barbara Byrne Denham, a senior economist at REIS, said a 9.4 percent vacancy rate was not “dangerously high.”
“I would say in an urban area like Philadelphia, it’s fine in the 7 to below 10 percent range,” Denham said. Even so, she added, the current vacancy rate will “keep the lid on rent growth, for sure.”
Representatives for the Lyndon at the Curtis said they are not worried.
“Our biggest competitor [is] condos,” said Renee McIntyre, director of sales and marketing for Scully. “People who are renting this building are renting by choice.”
Beyond its nearly 12-foot ceilings in each room and historic architectural features, the building is offering a menu of amenities. It has 24-hour concierge service and an entire amenity wing on the 11th floor — featuring a dog spa, a yoga studio, a gym, a library and a conference room, as well as a golf simulator. The century-old “Dream Garden” mural, owned by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is exhibited in the building’s lobby. Parking is available to residents for $295 a month.
“That’s the one thing about this trend of selling a home out in the suburbs and moving into the city — [residents] want the convenience of living in the city but that does not mean that they necessarily want to give anything up,” McIntyre said. “Here, they have the size, the parking, the storage that they need, and the co-working space. They don’t have to give up anything.”
McIntyre said the building is targeted across demographics.
The remaining 45 units still under construction are expected to be completed by March, with the majority finishing by the end of this year. In the meantime, Keystone Property Group is focused on leasing the rest of the building to commercial tenants.
So far, Keystone has secured leases for Philadelphia Magazine, Germantown Friends School, and Busy Bee Learning Center (a child-care center), as well as marketing firms and government agencies. P.J. Clarke’s, the New York City saloon, will open a location on the ground floor at Sixth and Walnut. And Keystone is close to securing a lease for the corner at Sixth and Sansom, Rosenberg said.
As for the Lyndon at the Curtis, Rosenberg said, there is room to expand and add more units — if eventually needed.