Mr. Rubin, who also founded the Center City District business group, died Monday at his Penn Valley home with his family at his side, according to Gloria Hochman, a family friend. A cause of death was not disclosed.
“You could always count on Ron to promote the city: All you needed was a phone call,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell, Philadelphia mayor during one of Mr. Rubin’s most active periods as a developer. “Philadelphia has lost one of its great civic leaders.”
Mr. Rubin was born in Philadelphia in 1931 and attended West Philadelphia High School. When Mr. Rubin later failed out of Penn State, his father, Richard, was furious, but helped him get a job on the packing line of a sweater factory, said Mr. Rubin’s sister, Judith Garfinkel.
As Mr. Rubin prepared to marry his wife-to-be, Marcia Miller, at age 21, Richard Rubin invited him into the family business, a small real estate brokerage, so he could better support a family.
“When Ronnie got into the office, he blew the walls off,” Garfinkel said. “He found his niche.” He also returned to college many times to be a guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, she noted.
The Rubin Organization’s offices in what is now known as the Wells Fargo Building were across South Broad Street from the intricate French Renaissance-style Bellevue Stratford hotel.
After a pneumonia-like disease killed 29 people at an American Legion convention at the hotel in 1976 — the first known outbreak of what would come to be known as Legionnaires’ disease — then-Mayor Frank Rizzo announced that the building would be demolished.
“I said to my dad, ‘We can’t let that happen,’” Mr. Rubin said in an unpublished 2016 interview. “That’s like the crowning blow of negativism about Philadelphia.”
Mr. Rubin gathered a consortium of civic-minded banks that were willing to take a chance on backing the Rubin Organization’s purchase of the hotel, as well as a renovation to eradicate any trace of the disease, he said.
The hotel reopened in 1979 with nearly 600 guest rooms, more than it turned out the market needed. The following decade, Mr. Rubin redeveloped the property a second time to dedicate a large portion of the building to offices — including his own — to better match demand, he said.
Rendell credited the project with blazing the way for his administration’s own “Avenue of the Arts” campaign to revive South Broad Street as a performing arts-anchored enclave of shops, offices, and apartments.
“If you were an investor, you would have said Ron was crazy to try to renovate the Bellevue, and yet it became a successful redevelopment,” Rendell said. “That was what saved South Broad Street.”
Mr. Rubin also had a hand in preserving the historic PSFS building on East Market Street, which was left largely vacant after the then-owner of its namesake bank fell into federal receivership in 1992.
Developer Carl Dranoff, who had specialized at the time in restoring classic buildings, said he was interested in buying the 1930s tower at 12th and Market Streets, so he dropped in on Mr. Rubin at the Bellevue to get his advice on the project.
Mr. Rubin wound up hiring Dranoff, in part so they could work on redeveloping the building together. Eventually, however, Mr. Rubin resold the tower to the Tisch family of New York to develop under their Loews hotel brand, just in time to meet the necessary quota of guest rooms for the 2000 Republican National Convention.
“His corner office was deal central in Philadelphia,” Dranoff said. “A lot of the building blocks of Center City that we see today were originated in Ron Rubin’s corner office.”
West of Market Street, meanwhile, Mr. Rubin made a profound contribution to the Center City skyline by developing the 54-story, pyramid-topped BNY Mellon Center at 1735 Market St., one in the cluster of skyscrapers that rose in Philadelphia’s main business district in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Another lasting contribution to Philadelphia’s civic and commercial life was Mr. Rubin’s early leadership of the Center City District, which was formed in the late 1980s to make the city’s core more inviting for business by enhancing its safety and cleanliness.
Mr. Rubin realized the need for the business association when he was courting jeweler Tiffany & Co. as a tenant at the Bellevue, one of 15 Center City buildings the Rubin Organization owned at the time, said Paul Levy, who was hired as the CCD’s first executive director and remains its president and chief executive.
Mr. Rubin had to make a special request to then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. to clean up and police surrounding streets that the Tiffany representatives would see during the afternoon of their visit, Levy said.
Mr. Rubin realized that “in order for him to be successful and others to be successful, there had to be a broader collective effort,” Levy said.
Reshaping the skyline while dedicating time to civic and philanthropic pursuits, Mr. Rubin drew comparisons to Willard Rouse III, who at about the same time was building the Liberty Place towers, while collaborating on convention center and concert hall projects in the city.
But while Rouse was known for his brash personality, Mr. Rubin was seen by many as more modest and self-effacing.
“They were both great entrepreneurial thinkers. They were both men of great vision and leadership,” said Philadelphia-based lawyer Steve Cozen, who knew both men either socially or professionally. “But their personalities were totally different.”
Outside Center City, the Rubin Organization expanded to encompass office buildings, shopping centers, and regional malls along the East Coast.
A major growth spurt came in 1996 when the company acquired management contracts for 26 retail properties owned by Chicago-based real estate magnate Sam Zell.
A year later, publicly traded Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust bought the Rubin Organization, making Mr. Rubin chief executive of the merged companies, which came to be known most commonly as PREIT.
It was under his leadership that PREIT purchased Center City’s Gallery at Market East shopping mall, now known as the Fashion District Philadelphia.
PREIT also spent extensively on renovations to the Cherry Hill Mall during Rubin’s watch, cementing its place as a regional retail powerhouse and the crown jewel of the company’s suburban shopping center empire, which also includes Willow Grove Park, and the Moorestown and Plymouth Meeting Malls.
Mr. Rubin remained PREIT’s chief until 2012, when Joseph F. Coradino, then one of Rubin’s leading executives, assumed the role. Mr. Rubin stepped down as executive chairman, his final position with the company, in 2016. More recently, the company has struggled amid the boom in e-commerce, compounded by the pandemic.
“All of us at PREIT were saddened to learn of Ron’s passing,” Coradino said in a statement. “Ron leaves behind a legacy of dedication, leadership and spirit.”
In the years after Mr. Rubin’s departure from PREIT, Coradino moved the company’s headquarters from the Bellevue to the Commerce Square office complex at 20th and Market Streets.
But Mr. Rubin remained in his corner office, looking after the remains of his family’s holdings with his brother, George.
“It’s not about money. It’s about having a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning and be involved,” he said in 2016. “I want to be busy.”
In addition to his wife, sister, and brother, Mr. Rubin is survived by daughter Susan, son Bill, grandson Scott Silberman, a niece, and several nephews. Services will be private. Donations in his memory can be made to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.