Monday, January 26, 2015

Philadelphia as a "supercharged" start-up hub

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I found this article interesting because it not only talks about Philadelphia's history as a start-up city, but also how Philadelphia is doing in the busy entrepreneurial world of today.

As stated, "Philadelphia's start-up scene today is scrappy, vibrant, and inclusive." All good adjectives, and all very reminiscent of a city like Philadelphia.

Classic companies such as Comcast, Urban Outfitters, QVC, and Vanguard, as well as Philadelphia newcomers Monetate, Revzilla, and NextDocs, are all big reasons why entrepreneurs have chosen (or are choosing) Philadelphia as a home base for their company.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, Philadelphia has one of the most convenient geographical locations in the country (located in the NE US, right between NYC & DC). The Northeastern US is lauded as the nation's most economically developed, densely populated, and culturally diverse area of the country. Not only does Philadelphia have a prime location, but we also have access to one of the world's best talent pools; graduating from one of our many academic institutions (e.g. UPenn, Drexel, Temple, etc).

So why am I even blogging about start-ups? This has never been a tech-centric blog, but I try to relate everything I read to the local real estate market.

In today's global environment, a robust start-up economy is a sign of strong growth. Where there are thinkers/doers, there are opportunities for jobs. Where there are opportunities for jobs, local residents spend their hard-earned money. When local residents spend their hard-earned money, real estate performs well.

Since buying is cheaper than renting today (in all of the 100 largest US metro areas), a healthy job market will increase the buying and selling of Philadelphia real estate. This then leads to even more jobs in other complementary industries (e.g. construction, home improvement stores, retail, etc).

There are 5 areas, as stated by DreamIt Ventures' managing partner Karen Griffith Gryga, that can make Philadelphia one of the top spots in the US for start-ups and entrepreneurship; and they/re very doable.

Read on to learn more.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Copper Hill Real Estate sets up shop at Pipeline in Center City Philadelphia

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Some of you loyal readers out there have already heard the news, while others have not. As of January 2015, I am now 1 of 3 Co-Founders at Copper Hill Real Estate in Philadelphia!

After spending 1.5 years at Brown McKinney and 3.5 years at US Spaces, I could not be more thankful to both Rudy Brown (Brown McKinney) and Fred Glick (US Spaces) for investing in me as a real estate professional. They have both taught me a lot, not only about local real estate in Philadelphia, but also what it takes to build a start-up real estate office in a crowded, busy, cut-throat Philadelphia real estate environment.

Without their mentorship, I would not be writing this post to all of you today. Thank you, Rudy & Fred!

Okay, back to the title of this post.

The other 2 Co-Founders of Copper Hill, Ryan Garrity (Chief Creative Officer) & Andrew Janos (Chief Financial Officer), could not be better business partners for what CHRE is trying to accomplish. We all live in Philadelphia, we all know Philadelphia, and we all love Philadelphia! That is what makes our team great, and what also sets us out on the path to success.

Here is Copper Hill's purpose:

"Copper Hill Real Estate provides a transparent and efficient real estate service through our informed professionals, as well as, a forward-thinking business model for today's mobile environment. We believe that brand elegance, market knowledge, and customer service are essential to delivering a customized and seamless real estate experience. Our independence, digital platform, and modern approach are what separate us from the industry."

So in short, CHRE is making the process of buying, selling, and renting real estate easier to understand, we are making online property searching and completing paperwork simpler and more efficient, and we are creating a client service-based environment that's simple, valuable, and enjoyable.

As a first step to being a mobile and modern real estate company, we decided on office space at Pipeline Philly (located in The Graham Building, right across from City Hall). So not only do we get to enjoy a prime Philadelphia office location, but we have access to over 20,000 sq ft of functional work space with other like-minded companies. Included in the space are a reception desk, conference room, casual seating area, and full kitchen. A big thank you to both Greg Stott and Josh Dubin for making CHRE feel right at home!

So to summarize, our choice in office space is requisite of our business platform.

I'm sure a lot of people out there have a real estate "war story," or have a family member or friend with one, that had caused him/her nothing but stress and bad memories when buying or selling a home. Our primary goal as a company is to change that perception by educating our clients properly and delivering on our promises.

For any/all real estate inquiries, please feel free to reach out. Copper Hill is now open for business!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays, all!

I would like to personally wish all of you loyal readers out there a happy and safe holiday!

Enjoy your time with family and friends, and check back in with Philly Urban Living soon for more exciting news in 2015. It should be both a busy year for real estate and local development.

Below are some holiday shots of the "City of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection." Enjoy!

Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia
Love Park, Philadelphia
("The New") Dilworth Park, Philadelphia

Sunday, December 21, 2014

New Philadelphia development will take a different approach to high-rise living

Marketplace Design Center, Philadelphia | Image courtesy of Bradley Maule

In general, apartment living in Philadelphia is pretty standard and predictable.

Your most common options are: "Studio," "1 Bed," and "2 Beds." Once you need "3+ Beds," the most common options are rowhomes, twins, or single families; not apartments/condos.

In 2015, the real estate status quo will shift due to changing demographics.

If you are unfamiliar with the Marketplace Design Center, let me paint the picture. When you are driving along I-76 (east or west) and you reach the downtown vicinity, there are multiple overpasses/bridges from both I-676 and Center City/University City connections. If you look across the Schuylkill River from I-76, you will see a large waterfront property with a giant mural on it. The mural is an ocean scene with whales swimming; officially known as Robert Wyland's "East Coast Humpbacks," circa 1993.

That's the place.

Now that you have a point of reference, let's talk about the latest project to grace the MDC (as there have been other recent attempts to redevelop the building, due to its prime location). PMC Property Group is looking to reconfigure the building into a modern, mixed-use destination (e.g. office space, ground-floor retail, hotel rooms, and apartments).

Unfortunately, it sounds like Wyland's mural won't make it through the rehab; bummer.

In order to fit all of these new elements, the building will expand vertically to accommodate the new apartments and hotel rooms. New entrances and lobbies will also make the building more inviting from the street.

What about the "different approach" you mentioned in the title? How does that play into this?

Okay, this is how Philadelphia's new approach relates to a city like NYC. The apartment/condo lifestyle in Philadelphia mostly caters to 2 groups: students/young professionals, and empty-nesters. Reason being, most people in those demographic groups only need a maximum of 2 Beds.

But what if someone wants to keep their apartment/condo lifestyle after they start a family? This is what PMC wants to accomplish.

In NYC, you can get apartments/condos/co-ops with 3+ Beds (and even 4+ Beds). Meaning you can live in a high-rise building and still have a large living space. Reason being, NYC is the densest metropolitan area in the US; therefore, NYC grows vertically to accommodate population growth.

So, if Philadelphians are flocking to Center City to enhance their lifestyles and the population is rising, we should now offer the same options as well.

That's why instead of the typical "Studio," "1 Bed," "2 Beds" approach, the new Marketplace Design Center will feature "1 Bed," "2 Beds," and "3 Beds" options in the residential section of the building. This can now cater to both young families (1-2 children) and extended families (nuclear families living with relatives); or, to those who just want/need more living space.

No matter which way you look at it, Philadelphia is currently experiencing a housing gap for the high-rise family lifestyle.

The project is expected to kick off in June 2015, so keep your eyes peeled for activity.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The "King of Prussia Line" will change Philadelphia forever

As PBJ quotes, "All aboard the KOP Express!"

For those who are unfamiliar, KOP is a local acronym for King of Prussia, which is considered to be the largest mall in the US (when measured by total retail space). It's a slippery slope, as Mall of America has more "stores."

No matter which way you slice it, KOP is a big and awesome place.

Now, to address the article that inspired this post. There has been lots of talk as well as various plans presented (remember the Schuylkill Valley Metro) for a new rail line out to KOP ... for years. For the most part, the plans were always too big and the cost was too extreme.

Enter, the "King of Prussia Line."

Since SVM is basically dead, and the need for convenient rail out to KOP is more alive than ever, the simplest and most doable approach seems to be an extension of the Manayunk/Norristown Line. Over the last 2 years, there were 30 different options being explored based on location, number of stops, cost, etc. Those 30 options were then whittled down to 16 different options, and today there are only 4 options being considered.

In other words, progress is being made.

With over 30,000 jobs (just within KOP Mall and its surrounding office parks alone), and 25M visitors each year, $500M to get something like this done kind of sounds like a small investment to make for such a large and significant improvement. Not only will it make 76 East/West (in between Manayunk/Roxborough and KOP) more bearable to drive, but it will create a more efficient business/residential/tourist environment for everyone in the Greater Philadelphia area.

As for real estate, you only have to look at the Main Line for an example of transit oriented suburbia. This large part of suburban Philadelphia has thrived since the 1830s, when rail was constructed in areas like Malvern, and it continues to do well today due to it's storied history, generational families, top-notch schools, and convenient location.

Today, it's suburban areas like Radnor, Ambler, and Conshohocken that continually do well from a market value perspective, and much of it has to do with their access to convenient SEPTA rail lines.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving, Philadelphia et al!

It's going to be a great day tomorrow.

No more snow, the sun will be out, the Birds will be on (and playing the Cowboys, no less), and family/friends will all sit down to a home-cooked meal.

I'm sure everyone out there has a lot to be thankful for, as do I.

While you're getting your home ready tomorrow morning for the day's festivities, make sure you tune into the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade (which is now in its 95th year).

It's considered to be the oldest Thanksgiving day parade in the US, and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be hoppin', as it is every year on TGD.

Enjoy the day, all!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

New development projects are changing the face of Philadelphia

Center City, Philadelphia | Comcast Innovation + Technology Center

If you have been a loyal reader over the last few years, then you already know that I love to talk about new development.

Why, you may ask?

Well, for starters, I am in the real estate business and I love what I do; I also have a passion for all things new construction and/or rehab related in the City of Brotherly Love. Residential, commercial, industrial, you name it. If it's happening, I'm interested.

Next reason, I'm a positive/optimistic kind of guy. "Doom and Gloom" has never been my bag, so it's only natural for me to provide insight and observation when good things are happening in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Last reason, Philadelphia is my home-sweet-home and a true national underdog. We were once at the top, then on the bottom, and now somewhere in between. The last 20+ years have been very exciting for our fair city, so naturally when good news is being announced, I enjoy discussing it.

And there you have it, my friends. 

Okay, back to the post.

Flying Kite has been around for a few years now, and it's a great resource if you ever want to read up on what's new and exciting in/around Philadelphia. FK focuses on both the city and suburbs, while "highlighting the people, ideas, neighborhoods, companies and institutions that are helping return Philadelphia to world-class city status."

It's also one of my go-to spots for finding the latest news about Philadelphia, and then stamping what I read with my own personal and professional perspectives. That's what blogging is all about, and why I enjoy doing it.

As aptly named in this post's title, there have been lots of new projects proposed and approved recently in the City of Philadelphia. Some may seem too small to make any sort of change, and some may seem so big that it's hard to imagine they will ever be built.

Either way, FK recently put out a list of "14 development projects" that have serious potential for positive change in Philadelphia. As to not bore you with my thoughts on each and every one, here are a few that I found to be the most important (the entire list can be found here):

- Rodin Square, Fairmount + Art Museum Area: If you have not strolled along West Fairmount Ave in 19130 for a few years ... go. It's crazy down there! Crazy-good, that is. Not only has the neighborhood found firm footing with new homeowners, new families, and new Philadelphians, but there are new businesses and new mixed-use buildings to boot. What first started as a residential revival on the western side of 19130, has since turned into a commercial boom with even more residential development spilling over to the eastern side (namely, in Francisville). Rodin Square will be a great connector project between all-of-the-good-already-happening in Fairmount, and the ever-burning-energy coming out of Center City (and a newly designed Benjamin Franklin Parkway). To top it all off, the project will feature a brand new Whole Foods, large/floor-to-ceiling glass cafe, 300 new residential units, "sky park (aka "luxury baller status")," and additional parking.

- Frankford Chocolate Factory, Graduate Hospital: Not sure what I'm referring to? If you're heading north on 22nd St, from South Philly, it's on your right as soon as you hit Washington Ave; or, if you are driving east/west on Washington Ave, it's on the northeast corner of 22nd St. Although it's kind of hard to miss, it looks like a dead spot. For something that takes up an entire city block in one of Philadelphia's hottest neighborhoods, you would think this would have turned into something new by now. The reason not is because it has been tied up in legal battles for years over the ex-owner's estate (the late Vietnamese businessman, Truong Dinh Tran). Now, it's on the market for an eligible buyer (who can turn it into something great). The last few years have already seen spillover from Graduate Hospital into Northern Point Breeze and Newbold, but a project this big (if done right) can only make that connection even better.

- Comcast Innovation + Technology Center, Logan Square: If you have not read about this one yet, I put a pretty detailed post together back in January 2014 (everything you need is there). But as far as game-changers go for Philadelphia these days, this is the one. With a height of 1,100 feet, 59 stories, Four Seasons Hotel (taking up 13 of the top floors), $1.2B price tag, and the tallest US building outside of NYC and Chicago, how can you not be pumped to see how this one turns out. Market West has primarily been a "business-first, pleasure-second" kind of Center City area for the past 30+ years, but a project like this could spur even more residential/retail growth in an already-dense urban neighborhood. Oh, and there should be almost 3,000 new/permanent jobs related to just the building alone. That does not account for all of the additional jobs just to build it, as well as those that will surround the building in the near future. Super-exciting-project!

- Reading Viaduct Rail Park, Callowhill + Loft District: From what seemed like a pipe dream just a few years ago, after NYC introduced its highly-touted "High Line," has since turned into a reality with planning, funding, and a whole lot of positive energy behind it. What is now a neighborhood that seems lost for a new identity, may soon turn into a neighborhood that successfully bridges the gap between Northern Liberties and Center City. It's hard not to see the potential in this one, with dirt expected to start moving in 2015.

So if you have been away from Philadelphia's local development scene for some time now, my hope is that this post has helped spread the good word. Amazing things are happening in the City of Brotherly Love, and the energy is contagious.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Workshop of the World, Part II?" Philadelphia looks to become an energy hub.

If you are from the Philadelphia area, you have probably heard the moniker "Workshop of the World" before. Whether it was from your grandparents, your parents, or from a local textbook or historian.

WOTW was how Philadelphia was referenced "back in the day" (as we say around here), and it was largely driven by our region's abundance of coal; a cheap source of energy back then. Coal powered Philadelphia's factories, homes, you name it.

Post-Civil War, from about 1880-1920, Philadelphia represented the world's greatest collection of skill and diversity in manufacturing. So much so, that our industrial workforce was about 250,000 people strong ... and that was almost 150 years ago! But what really made Philadelphia unique in comparison to similar cities of its time (e.g. Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, etc), was that we didn't just rely on a few large companies to drive our local manufacturing economy. Philadelphia became an incubator for smaller/medium-sized workshops, where those who maybe once worked for large companies broke off and started making specialized products of their own; let's call it "entrepreneurial manufacturing."

Is it just me, or is this back-story beginning to sound a bit like where Philadelphia is going today; but replace "manufacturing" with "education/medicine/technology."

Now, back to my title: Workshop of the World, Part II.

Phil Rinaldi, the CEO of Philadelphia Energy Solutions (the old Sunoco operation in Southwest Philadelphia), is the man responsible for turning the local refinery around and looking toward Philadelphia's energy future. Natural gas from the Marcellus Shale reserve is currently been "fracked" in PA and being shipped all over the world. But as it stands today, Philadelphia could be seeing more local job action from the current boom.

If the natural gas boom comes to Philadelphia, it could potentially reinvent our local economy.

If it sounds too good to be true, there is always the possibility that it may be. Not only would a gas boom create thousands of jobs, for both blue and white collar workers, but it also has the potential to impact our area environmentally (and not in a positive way). That is where the lines are drawn.

Fracking is sometimes viewed as an environmentally hazardous industry; but when the word "jobs" comes rolling around, politicians and business leaders start to dream big.

As it stands today, most of the Marcellus Shale gas is being sent to Louisiana, where it is refined and shipped. But if the shale reserve is in PA (not LA), why aren't we sending the natural gas to Philadelphia for refinement? It's closer, it's a big city, and it keeps everything local.

That's the question local experts are starting to ask. Can we set up the proper infrastructure (namely, new/larger pipelines) to handle the amount of gas refinement, shipping, and exporting needed; and can we also create the amount of new jobs necessary in order to become a refining destination?

The answer is, yes. We have the workforce, we have the rail lines, we have the ports, and we have the leaders to put all of that together.

But ... here are some concerns to think about:

Under what "conditions" would/should Philadelphia take on this challenge?

Would this endeavor take away from our green/sustainable efforts over the past decade?

Since natural gas is a finite resource, does a push to create a natural-gas-based economy hurt the next few generations of Philadelphians?

Are we trying to plan for the short-term, or the long-term?

These are the concerns that many people have, and with good reason. Creating the pipelines necessary to run natural gas from the Marcellus Shale directly to Philadelphia is very similar to gambling.

If we win, we'll win big. If we lose, we'll lose big. Those results will also play a large role in Philadelphia's local real estate market.

Unfortunately, there are almost too many details to discuss in this blog post, but the possibilities for Philadelphia to embrace this opportunity are basically endless. At the end of the day, it will take a lot of planning, discussion, and forward-thinking to do it right.

Here is a link to "Energy Boomtown PhillyStyle," from WHYY. You will get a lot of great information if you listen to the hour-long segment.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Philadelphia is a "Top 10 US Destination City"

Photo courtesy of HuffPost Travel

Not quite sure what my title means exactly? I felt the same way ... until I read this entire article.

When we think of "destination cities," we think of places we would like to visit and/or potentially move to. That's really what makes these places destinations. There are lots of things to see/do, the population is increasing, there are job opportunities, and the culture is cool.

That's why I would want to visit/move-to a new city, wouldn't you?

Well, Philadelphia just cracked the Top 10, and for very valid reasons. Here is a breakdown of why we made the list:

- "Philadelphia is a multi-faceted destination:" As stated in the report, "Philadelphia fuses colonial American history with contemporary charm." For those who have never been, 2014 Philadelphia is a healthy mix of both "old" and "new." When referring to the "old," our city has tons of history, established businesses, eclectic neighborhoods, and generations of locals. It's what separates Philadelphia from a majority of other US cities. When referring to the "new," our city is experiencing a real estate development boom, population increases, new city residents from all over the world, and a culinary scene that can only be matched by a few other US cities. That is what makes Philadelphia multi-faceted, and keeps us competitive with other US cities. That is also why we had 39 million visitors in 2013, with a sizable increase in international travel.

- "Philadelphia is compact and easy to navigate:" I don't think anyone would argue with this one. As for overall city population, Philadelphia currently ranks 5th (behind NYC, LA, Chicago, and Houston). As for city population density, Philadelphia also ranks 5th (behind NYC, San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago). The fact that we fall in the same spot for both means that we have a large, dense, and urban city; not to mention that our public transportation infrastructure is expansive and far-reaching. In other words, the average Philadelphian can get from Point A to Point B fairly easily, and at a reasonable cost. This not only adds to Philadelphia's overall quality of life, but it makes our city an attractive place to live. As many have said before, including myself, Philadelphia is a very manageable big city.

- "Center City is packed with museums of all stripes, as well as historic monuments:" Every city has its focus area. This is a city's lifeblood, and it feeds into other aspects of the surrounding metro area (e.g. jobs, tourism, etc). For Philadelphia, this area is Center City. Not only is CC the cultural and entertainment hub of Philadelphia, it's also the most popular place to live in the city. Neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square and Old City offer Philadelphians the option to live in a low-rise, historic neighborhood, but still be within walking/biking distance to jobs, restaurants, shopping, and public transportation. On top of that, Philadelphia's best museums and historic sites are located within the Center City area as well. This means that both visitors and residents interact on a daily basis, which adds to our city's charm and appeal.

From someone who's job involves working with clients from all over the world, Philadelphia's current reputation far surpasses what some locals recall from years past. We are a city on the rise, and the future is bright.

Monday, September 29, 2014

New anchor project is coming along in Chestnut Hill

Past rendering of 8200 Germantown

It's not everyday that I can talk about large-scale development in Chestnut Hill. The same could be said for other popular Philadelphia neighborhoods like Rittenhouse Square, Society Hill, Washington Square, etc.

Why, you may ask? Well, there really isn't any land available to develop in Chestnut Hill.

Enter, urban infill.

The old Magarity car dealership (which for some odd reason, people ask if they are my relatives; Garrity ... Magarity ... anyway) has made way for a new mixed-use project in one of Philadelphia's most established neighborhoods, Chestnut Hill.

Now enter, Bowman Properties.

For years, BP worked with local neighborhood groups to approve a sensible project for this site; mixed-use on a busy commercial corridor. It took some time, as well as compromise from both sides, but it was officially approved about a year ago. Not only will this project add a much needed/walkable grocery option to Chestnut Hill, but it will also incorporate a residential element to the plan; currently calling for 17 condos.

Although some local neighbors were not in agreement with the scale/density/parking/traffic, the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) helped both parties reach an agreement and is in full support of the project.

"It is an important development and significant to the continuing upgrading and economic health of the avenue," stated Will Detwiler, who is President of CHCA.

Personally, I agree with Detwiler. This is a great project for Chestnut Hill.

In a city like Philadelphia, with the amount of history and density we have, new construction development (whether it's residential, commercial, or industrial) always requires a lot of due diligence.

Why, you may ask? Well, there are a few reasons.

First and foremost, land is scarce. Most of Philadelphia's new development is considered dense/urban infill. Meaning that someone is building where something used to be, or someone is building in close proximity to surrounding neighbors/businesses. Philadelphia doesn't really have huge swaths of raw land just sitting around waiting for developers to come by and buy it. Most of Philadelphia's land (even larger parcels) has been bought many times over, been reimagined more than once, or is being prepped for the next visionary.

Second, Philadelphia is a provincial town. So much so, that locals still even refer to Philadelphia as a town (like I just did myself). Generations of Philadelphians have been born here, have raised families here, and have passed on their assets/wealth to their heirs. Sometimes it's a good thing, and sometimes not; as not everyone wants to be involved in real estate. Bottom line, there are many people in Philadelphia who are resistant to change due to our city's storied history and localized culture.

Finally, there is a major renaissance taking place in Philadelphia today. Lots of new people have moved here from all over the world, and they want to create positive change in the city; many times, through development. Real estate in Philadelphia is considered inexpensive when compared to similar metropolitan areas of both size and location (namely Boston, New York, and Washington DC). Philadelphia's affordability and ideal location has sparked interest from global investors who may not always have the public's best interests in mind; it's a number-based decision for them. This has caused some neighbors to resist new development in Philadelphia.

So in an established/historic neighborhood like Chestnut Hill, where there is not much land to be had for projects of this size/magnitude, it's understandable why the local community wants to have input. As this project has shown, neighbors and developers can work together for both the pursuit of profit as well as the greater good.

I look forward to seeing it completed.