With such a history, it’s hardly surprising that it should be a mecca for past and present architects and real estate developers.
Moreover, given that Philadelphia has been called a “city of neighborhoods,” it is not surprising that the success of these developers requires and rewards a commitment to sustainable development and community vitality. And who better to understand this interconnection than developers with roots in the Philadelphia area?
Further assisting in the success of the Jewish real estateindustry is the presence of such a supportive organization as Jewish Federation Real Estate, an affinity group of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, providing resources such as networking, including special events and presentations, volunteer opportunities, and donations to such causes as home repairs for low-income individuals and improvements for Jewish overnight and day camps. Perhaps JFRE’s website motto best underlines the reason for the success of the Jewish real estate community: “Invest in yourself. Invest in your community.”
The companies featured here have certainly done both.
Take for example, the background of some key area developers who are Jewish and whose work can reflect the Jewish concepts of tzedakah (giving back) and tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Meet those who have helped build Philly into major metropolitan status: John and James Korman (CEO and president of Korman Residential respectively); Bob Toll, CEO of Toll Brothers; Carl Dranoff, CEO of Dranoff Properties; Bart Blatstein, president/CEO, Tower Developments; and Joseph Zuritsky, CEO of Parkway Corporation. All boast degrees from leading metropolitan area universities: Penn (John Korman, Toll), Drexel (Dranoff), and Temple (Blatstein, Zuritsky).
But the stories of their companies go even deeper. Korman in particular has deep roots. Founded in 1919 by Hyman Korman, who purchased farms for residential development, the company has expanded into New Jersey, Delaware and, most recently, Florida.
For Toll Brothers, their location in the Philadelphia area offered unique advantages from the start. Explains Kira Sterling, chief marketing officer for the company: “It’s hard to say what Toll Brothers would have become if it had been founded anywhere but Philadelphia. When we began building in 1967, Philadelphia had not been discovered by the larger home builders prevalent in the South and West. We were able to become the ‘big fish in a small pond’ before we expanded into regions where we were competing with other big builders.
Zuritsky’s father and uncle founded Parkway Corporation to transform abandoned buildings into parking garages. Although still building parking garages, the company has also developed retail and residential properties well beyond its Philadelphia roots.
Blatstein’s Tower Developments and Dranoff’s Dranoff Properties, while comparatively newer, also boast area roots. Having founded his company in Philadelphia in 1978, Blatstein made Philadelphia the canvas for his creativity, focusing first on Delaware Avenue, then the development of the Northern Liberties area, and further along, to such projects as Avenue North on Broad Street in North Philadelphia, as well as entertainment, commercial and residential developments in Manayunk.
Dranoff Properties, although a relatively new player in this group — founded in 1997 — has seen rapid growth in the Philadelphia area. In an interview with Jeff Blumenthal of the Philadelphia Business Journal, Dranoff recalls his beginnings: “When I first started, I had a three-person office in Narberth, and my wife was my receptionist and I had a part-time accountant.”
After four moves, his current location at 777 S. Broad St. offers him 6,700 square feet of space. “It’s not dramatically bigger, but it has a much better design,” Dranoff said.
Yet none of these business owners sees their commitment to Philadelphia as limited to property development.
Korman encourages volunteer involvement in the community. According to the company’s website, “Every Korman Residential team member is encouraged to take two paid work days annually to volunteer.”
Zuritsky’s Parkway Corporation states on its website that “throughout Parkway’s history it has been a strong supporter of local, regional, national, and international charitable organizations. Parkway’s commitment to improving the quality of life for others is an integral part of its business philosophy.”
Besides a nationwide partnership with such environmental groups as National Wildlife Federation and Audubon International, Toll Brothers keeps in mind the interests of residents in developing its properties, taking into account and using surroundings.
Blatstein’s personal commitment to the area is reflected in his service to a variety of organizations. For instance, he has served as president of the Jewish Publishing Group and currently serves on the board of trustees of Community College of Philadelphia, President’s Advisory Board and Board of Visitors of Temple University, and Northeast Treatment Centers.
Finally, Dranoff Properties has supported Philadelphia area arts and cultural institutions such as Avenue of the Arts, Kimmel Center, Suzanne Roberts Theatre and the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society. And a unique aspect of Dranoff’s interest in keeping the community green is its bike share program, allowing Philadelphia residents to reserve bikes for rides along the Schuylkill or through neighborhoods.
To succeed in any given area, then, especially in a real estate market — involving such intimate choices as living space — the lesson seems to be that developers need to have lived in that space and made it their home.
A journalist specializing in social issues, Diane McManus teaches at Community College of Philadelphia. This article originally appeared in the Real Estate Special Section.