About four years ago, Carl Dranoff, president of Dranoff Properties, couldn't find anyone to drive in a car with him in downtown Camden, N.J. Camden is the state's poorest city and is known for crime and dilapidated buildings. No one wanted to live there.
But Dranoff saw another image of Camden. He saw a city on the verge of revitalization. State, county, and local agencies had spent an enormous amount of time and money redeveloping its waterfront with major tourist attractions–including the New Jersey State Aquarium, The Tweeter Center (an entertainment venue), Campbell's Field (home to the Camden Riversharks, an Atlantic League baseball team), and The Battleship New Jersey. These projects put the public infrastructure in place.
"People sense that there is a big shift going on here," says Dranoff. "Camden is going to be the next hot new neighborhood." And, that is due in part to Dranoff Properties' latest project, The Victor – a $65 million, 341-unit luxury loft apartment building with on-site retail at the former RCA Nipper building.
Traditionally, developers would come into a city like Camden and build incremental-type housing, says Thomas Corcoran, CEO of Coopers Ferry Development Association, a private nonprofit development corporation in charge of coordinating the redevelopment of Camden's waterfront. Dranoff's attitude was to jump to high-end housing right away and let the market catch-up. "It has some risk associated with it ... but he creates a product that anybody would want to live in," Corcoran says. "The demand drivers are there to support this type of project."
"Our project's size and highly recognized presence on the waterfront enabled us to become the catalyst for [residential] change," explains Dranoff. "Now, builders are coming up to me and asking how they can get into the ground floor in Camden."
On His Own
In 1997, Dranoff decided it was time to start his own company. He already had a successful career leading Philadelphia-based Historic Landmarks for Living, which specializes in historic rehabs. But this time he wanted to do it his way. Dranoff Properties specializes in the adaptive reuse of large-scale historic structures. It is also based in Philadelphia. "I had the opportunity to re-invent my former company, but improve and refine the process and have guiding principals that would allow me to accomplish things quicker," he says. At the onset, Dranoff knew he wanted to stick with what he knew best – creating luxury residential rehabs. His goal is simple: to be the best in the market, thereby establishing a brand.
However, historic rehab is not for beginners, says Dranoff. "Each of these buildings is one of a kind," he says. "There is no reference library for this type of construction." Fortunately, Dranoff had 10 years of experience with his former company where he created a playbook of lessons learned.