Carl Dranoff's development mantra is transformation. “If the project is not transformative, we probably won't do it,” says the CEO of Philadelphia-based Dranoff Properties. “It's the way we compete as a strong, regional player. We can't really compete with the Fortune 500s for sites and financing, so we have to do better projects. We have to create destinations that change the market equation.”
Case in point: Symphony House, Dranoff 's $125 million, Art Deco-style high-rise and the first residential tower in downtown Philadelphia in nearly two decades. At the 32-story building, one competitive nuance is clear: Dranoff can hold its own even in a plummeting housing market. After pre-selling two-thirds of Symphony House's 163 units in 2005, the company relied on social marketing, quality mixed-use construction, and a firm belief in its location to stem cancellation rates at a mere 8 percent; national developers, meanwhile, saw nearly half of Philadelphia buyers pull out of deals set to close in 2007 and 2008.
All this at a South Broad Street “Avenue of the Arts” location that was experiencing a renaissance in entertainment and retail but had little residential traction. “Lenders were skeptical,” Dranoff says, adding that the company was also breaking out of the steel-and-glass status quo by returning to an Art Deco-inspired design that better embraced old-school Philadelphia architecture. “It was not an immediate no-brainer that this project could be successful. It was not Rittenhouse Square or Society Hill. It was in-between—a no-man's land in an unproven location.”
The developer kept buyers excited and engaged with events at 60-day intervals, including dinners at the property's three restaurants, wine tasting seminars, tailgating parties with the Philadelphia Eagles, and, of course, tickets to opening night at the Suzanne Roberts Theater, the 365-seat performing arts venue within Symphony House. The theater, in fact, helped the project nab $20 million in financing, including a $5 million redevelopment grant from the state of Pennsylvania that Dranoff personally lobbied for from Pennsylvania governor and original Avenue of the Arts redevelopment proponent Edward Rendell.
Building a residential high-rise over a theater and a subway station presented difficult construction logistics. The entire slab was placed on springs to mitigate vibration. Every unit has double-studded party walls, sound insulation barriers, and an acoustic-deadening rubber compound under the floor. Otherwise, it's clear-cut multifamily luxury, with a 65-foot sky terrace lap pool, two rooftop sundecks, steam and massage rooms, and 24-hour concierge services.
For the six units remaining to be sold, Dranoff is finally offering concessions, including a Smart Car and free parking space to buyers. Then, it's on to the next project. “We changed the equation on South Broad Street. There are four other projects under construction now, one of which is ours,” Dranoff says. “[The area's] now considered a great residential location.”
Fast Facts Developer: Dranoff Properties
Architect: Bower Lewis Thrower Architects
Builder: L.F. Driscoll Co.; Intech Construction
Opened: July 2007
No. of Units: 163
Unit Mix: One-, two-, three-bedroom, and penthouse condos
Prices: $500,000 to $4 million
Judge's Verdict “THIS PROJECT TRANSFORMED THE AREA AND SET THE STAGE FOR FUTURE GROWTH. PHILLY'S BROAD STREET REALLY HAS A SENSE OF PLACE NOW.” —Dave Woodward, CEO and managing partner, Laramar Communities