Blatstein, looking svelte as ever, announced that Hard Rock International will be managing and operating the Provence Casino.
Bart Blatstein. Love him. Hate him. Maybe you don’t even know him. If it’s the latter, you must live under a rock. It does not really matter. One notion about Bart Blatstein that everyone can agree on? You can’t stop him from developing in Philadelphia.
On Wednesday evening, October 24th, at Tendenza on N 2nd Street in Northern Liberties, I attended the announcement party hosted by Tower Investments. They had gathered few hundred people including city officials, the press, and a mix of other people with some influence in Philadelphia to hear who was chosen to manage the casino portion of his Boutique Hotel and Casino development at the site of the acquired Inquirer Building at 400 N Broad Street, the Provence. This uniquely situated piece of real estate runs from N Broad to N 17th Street and is projected to create 5,000 new jobs for Philadelphia as well as some much needed revenue for the city.
I have to admit, the announcement party was upbeat and extremely pro-Philadelphia. People in the crowd were pleasantly optimistic and realistic. Most of the people I spoke to communicated to me a “big picture” understanding of the positive ramifications that this 700 million dollar project would have on the city. In essence, Blatstein is pioneering a vital infrastructure that will connect the Northern neighborhoods to Center City. As a Realtor looking at the disconnect between the commercial districts and the emerging "fringe neighborhoods" that encompass the Northern districts, I see this as a brilliant plan. The party attendees seemed to agree and held a quiet confidence in Blatstein coupled with the understanding of changes and challenges ahead.
Some won’t agree with my support of Blatstein’s visions for Philly, nor will they agree with how I vote this coming election, but that’s not going to stop me and it is not going to stop Blatstein either.
A BI GEZUNT, Bart.
The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that developer Bart Blatstein's next move is a plan for a casino and hotel project along North Broad Street. Blatstein will seek the casino license formerly held by Foxwoods.
Earlier this week we mentioned the beginning of Blatstein's Tower Place.
According to PBJ, "the proposed casino would be 117,000 square feet and include what Blatstein called a “destination entertainment center” with theaters, shopping, sporting events, concerts, and spa services. By comparison, the SugarHouse casino is 130,000 square feet and is expanding by another 106,000 square feet."
What are your thoughts on a Center City casino?
Construction begins today on Tower Place, a residential project from Tower Investments Inc. at Broad and Spring Garden Streets. According to Philadelphia Business Journal, the $120 million redevelopment of the former state office building will make up 400 residential units and 60,000 square feet of commercial space. Phase One is expected to be completed later this year.
SugarHouse Casino celebrated its 1 Year Anniversary and Ashley Hahn from PlanPhilly wrote an article that should have had the song lyrics "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" embedded in it. In short, more boohooing about the SugarHouse Casino. How original. SugarHouse may have fallen short of expectations as far as revenues collected this year and number of slots versus gaming tables thought to be played. But come on now! How many businesses have made a landslide profit or exceeded revenue projections their very first year? Not many! Regardless of hopeful projections, you do not need to have a PhD to know for a fact that profits are a delayed reward for any new business. Why should expectations be any different for the SugarHouse Casino?
No thanks to Jerry Springer
The negative tone of the article, though factual, informative, and extremely well written, was tiring to me on a personal and intellectual level. It was a lot of the same uninspired anti-casino rhetoric. And what is more disappointing to me in Hahn's article is the way she just grazed over and showed very little gracious reporting when mentioning the presentation of a ceremonial check for $500,000 to the Penn Treaty Special Services District. I mean if some handed me $500,000, I might want to offer a little love in my written article. Even more inflammatory to me and the icing on the cake, the use of a very inflammatory comment quoted from the article about the Pennsylvania casino system by Noah Bierman of the Boston Globe:
“The financial success of Pennsylvania’s casinos was built on the ambitious scope of the effort and the rich profitability of the industry, but also on a foundation of cronyism, patronage, and back-room deals, not to mention overlooked criminal histories and alleged mob ties.”
A very provocative comment, I admit. Certainly gets the Jerry Springer in me wanting more. But to me throwing in that type of comment int the article after mentioning the $500,000 donation from the casino is a clever diversion tactic used to make the article more interesting. I mean it works and all but I want to read Jerry Springer meets Anderson Cooper. Something like that. Tell me something I can work with. Am I alone when I say I want to be part of the Sugar Cure not the Disease?
Being anti is still a gamble
To Hahn's credit she closed her article in an interesting way appealing to my own sentiment about the SugarHouse Casino and its future success and impact on Philadelphia. Hahn clarified perhaps her own personal position in her closing paragraph of the article, "I may not be singing SugarHouse “Happy Birthday,” but its failure also feels like a gamble." In other words being a proponent of the SugarHouses demise and failure is an equal if not more tragic loss to Philadelphia. Is that a chance you want to take? I know I don't.
Giving credit to SugarHouse
SugarHouse was the first to break ground, take the first risk, and throw the first punch if you will at Philly's failing waterfront. That is something that should be acknowledged in a positive light. Let's cut the negative chitchat and discuss some successes in moving forward. There are very few developers that would test the waters at the Delaware Waterfront after witnessing the devastation left by the RE market boom. The Casino stepped up. Let's give some credit where it is due.
Who to look to for inspiration?
Let's look at what is working immediately around the SugarHouse Casino in Fishtown, Northern Liberties, and Old City. There are three inspiring entities that the Casino and the community should examine as they move forward and expand.
First, let's look at Waterfront Square. Waterfront Square is a geographically close example of what could have been more collateral damage for Philly after the Real Estate Bubble burst. Today Waterfront Square represents an exquisite largescale Luxury Real Estate project that has shown resilience and a "Failure Is Not An Option" mentality after faithfully treading water for years. That mentality works and should be adopted by the casino and the community.
Next let's look at Bart Blatstein, a prolific Philadelphia developer. Though always catching a mix bag of kudos and criticisms, his projects and investments are tangible successes that work. The Casino gods and planners should be looking to emulate Blatstein's mastery of commercial and residential Real Estate, his ability to tap into trends, create culture, influence architecture, urban culture, and life-style. These characteristics are gravely needed at SugarHouse.
Race Street Pier
And finally Old City's newest addition, the Race Street Pier is quite literally an oasis. As public green space, the Race Street Pier is a small taste of what can be created along the Delaware River. Much like Penn Treaty Park, well-planned green spaces will play a huge part in reconnecting Philadelphia and her visitors to her majestic riverside. The Race Street Pier's huge success and the continued plans to develop the waterfront are working.
"This will be an anchor for the neighborhood," Bart Blatstein announced this morning at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Superfresh at the Shops at Schmidts in Northern Liberties. "A neighborhood is not complete without a supermarket."
The 51,000 square foot market on the second level at 180 West Girard Avenue opened in full force this morning with welcoming staff sourced from the neighborhood, Mayor Nutter, and Bart Blatstein. And of course, long-waiting customers who were excited to finally have access to fresh produce, a vast selection of items, and a pharmacy.
Get on over there and fill up a cart! We are so proud to welcome Superfresh to the neighborhood as one of the many conveniences and highlights of living in Northern Liberties.
Come on, everyone. The last thing we need across the street from the SugarHouse Casino is a so-called "Jewelry Store". Yeah, right. That is what Philadelphians and Fishtown residents want and need at East Allen Street across the street from the casino. With the unemployment rate in Philly hovering too close to the double digits, I am pretty sure people are not thinking about buying jewels. The price of precious metals such as gold are at at their highest valuations! That is why I was kind of sickened by L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy's comment "We cannot pre-judge in anyway the operation of this business," as quoted in PlanPhilly. It sickened me because I know she is right conceptually, that we have to give people a chance to make their business work. But my "judge not lest ye be judged" belief sinks like a coin in a slot machine knowing that this type of shop is catering to people when they are at their weakest. I call that evil. My husband Chris sarcastically calls it "capitalism". He is right but I don't have to like how capitalism is being used.
There are rules that the shop must follow. Apparently, 25% of the jewelry shop (I use this title loosely) is allowed to be devoted to the PURCHASE of metal and jewels. The remainder of the store has to be for the SALE of Jewelry. Could we make the loophole any easier? Just slap up a bunch of jewelry cases and you are quite literally "good as gold". And don't let the for sale sign on the newly renovated building throw you off. They are only an inspection away from opening. The solution is complicated. We need looser lending restrictions for businesses. We need greater development along the waterfront and around the casino site to perpetuate a more competitive and desirable terrain for business, residents and consumers. We need private investors (like Bart Blatstein), with money, business savvy, vision and a fire in their belly. We need time.
Thankfully, with plans to develop the waterfront in the making and signs of life as the luxury apartments are being developed at the former eyesore of a site at Liberties Self Storage, there is a tangible spark of hope in that territory. At least that is what I believe and that is the message I am going to spread.
What do you think?
The new owner of 400 N. Broad Street, home to Philadelphia Media Network (Philly.com, Daily News, the Inquirer)? The newsiest address in town? Well, according to Philly.com...
The price for the 18-story building has not been disclosed, but we're already thinking of what Blatstein's dreaming up for the place.
Offices? Another luxury condo? A boutique hotel, perhaps? With the Convention Center expansion, that would make the most sense.
No word yet on where the HQ of Philly's biggest newsroom will move. What do you think of the sale?
The N 2nd Street Ghetto's Gotta Go!
I sat double-parked in front of the Palm Tree Market on N 2nd Street in Northern Liberties as Chris popped into the store. The Palm Market is like its name suggests, an oasis in the desert for all of the locals until developer Bart Blatstein finds someone to replace the defunct Pathmark that was to open at the Piazza to the North of our neighborhood. You can read that post here.
As I waited for Chris to return, I looked around at South N 2nd Street. "What the hell is going on here?" I asked myself for the hundredth time as I looked at all of the ugly abandoned storefronts, graffiti-painted boards, and dilapidated buildings. I noticed a young couple pushing a stroller and pointing with disgust to a collapsing rooftop and broken window. I, too, was utterly sickened at the sight. This is my neighborhood and something has to give!
Last week I showed a few properties to a client on South N 2nd Street. The lure of Northern Liberties as a hotspot had him interested in buying a home there. He said, "Why would I buy an overpriced home on North 2nd when it looks so...GHETTO. What are the chances my investment will go up in the next few years? I am not willing to take that chance."
Guess where he is buying? Fishtown. "If Steven Starr likes Fishtown enough to open a beer garden, then so so do I."
Glen from the Foodery asked me to help him in his efforts along with the NLBOA to "fix the South Side of the neighborhood" by getting in touch with the owners of the abandoned buildings that line N 2nd Street from Fairmount to Poplar. Glen knows as well as I do that if these Slumlords (I mean homeowners) were willing, we could put people in their stores and transform the entire South Side on N 2nd St. Glen came to me because he thought I had some sort of Magic Real Estate Power to get in touch with the vacant property owners and persuade them to let us help beautify this part of Northern Liberties. I wish my Real Estate license came with a magic wand and a few potions. Because many people have tried to contact the property owners and for many reasons -- perhaps greed, lack of money, or indifference, these owners are not taking responsibility for their properties. Like magic, they seem to have vanished.
I am sick of it! So, I am calling them out by name.
- 736 N 2nd Street - David Jones (acquired the property for free in 1977 and took a line of credit out for 95K in 2003)
- 734 N 2nd Street - Souder Family Partnership (Let us help you beautify your facade!)
- 728-30 N 2nd Street - Luis George (acquired in 1985 for 65K. Rumor says you won't rent your space due to taxes?)
- 720 N 2nd Street aka "Sher's Book Store" - John Valentino (a bookstore would be an awesome addition to the neighborhood)
- 712 N 2nd Street - HPH 712 N 2nd St (Windex, dude! Use it. Clean up your 2400 sf of vacant commercial space)
- 710 N 2nd Street - Avi Developers LLC (Your permits date from 2008. You don't need a permit to paint your facade!)
- 708 N 2nd Street - Robert Krumm (Your "For Rent" sign looks crummy and it has been there for years! Use it or lose it!)
- 201 Green Street - (Huge commercial space. Many of us have spoken to the owner Woody in the past. Rent it, sell it, or if you need help, reach out to us. We have ideas and resources.)
Hate him or love him, it is irrelevant, because Bart Blatstein singlehandedly transformed the North Side of Northern Liberties. I don't want to hear any excuses that the economy is too tough when we have other thriving businesses such as Koo Zee Doo, 700 Club, Liberties, Five to One, the Palm, Flowers Etc., Architectural Antiques Exchange, Green Eggs Cafe, Koi, Liberty Tattoo, Exit Philadelphia Skateboards, Arcadia, the Foodery, Soy Cafe, and so on. NO EXCUSES. Glenn from the Foodery, Chris and I, the NLBOA and so many others know it is tough out there but nonetheless we know we can help cure the south side decay if only these property owners took an interest.
We want to know how you feel and what your suggestions are below. If you know any of these owners, we ask that you please direct them to this post.
Only at the Piazza! "Every day is an adventure," Bart Blatstein said to us last night as we watched the engineer weld the last piece of steel on the base of the Tower that now stands on North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties.
"This was just a thought in my head a few weeks ago."
With a creative mind and seemingly endless resources, Blatstein managed to salvage a 15,000 pound steel structure that once peered over the Piazza from the roof top of one of Tower Investment's properties on Hancock Street. "This will be a great meeting place for people," Blatstein explained to us. "Meet you at the Tower!" he said, with a sense of knowing that, that is exactly what people will do and say. "This is going to be an organic type of installation, ever changing, perhaps we'll add some greenery, a solar powered wind mill..."
I could see the sparkle in Bart's eyes as the possibilities for this Steel Tower began to reel though his mind. "I think it is important to salvage things. It is a reminder of the past. I think that is important. People should remember." We listened intently trying to gain some insight from Mr. Blatstein. Sadly, we were interrupted by a call on Blatstein's cell and we headed home. Today the Tower stands strong much like those folks who are attending this Sunday Out!
What do you think? Got any fun nicknames for the Tower?
Now that it appears that Pathmark is out for Bart Blatstein's long-awaited supermarket/shopping center novella, the Shops at Schmidts.
Let's just say that the neighborhood was not surprised after A&P, Pathmark's parent company, filed for bankruptcy late last year. After Pathmark began to close stores, many of us got to wondering: Would the Northern Liberties opening fall through?
According to Philly.com, Blatstein is moving on to Plan B, which means fulfilling his goal of having a supermarket chain in the space, whether it's Pathmark or something else. We're voting for Wegmans, because there's no Philadelphia location yet, and this space looks to be big enough for the boutique grocery mecca. It'd be something different, and would suit the tastes of the Top Chef-obsessed, organic-buying-inclined Northern Liberties homeowners.
But we'll take anything...we just want a supermarket. We'll keep you posted!
What do you think?