As Adele Kubel talked about the 26 years she rented an artist’s studio at the old Reading Co. building on Spring Garden Street, it was like hearing an ode to a long-lost love.
The building along the railroad tracks, with studios for 100 artists, was gorgeous, with high ceilings and beautiful windows, said Kubel, a painter from Abington.
“I got great light.... I had a view of City Hall. It was very open.... I could easily walk into Center City."
But a small electrical fire in September 2015 led the city to shut down the building due to 29 code violations. Arts & Crafts Holdings bought it in 2016 and renovated it, adding another staircase and replacing an elevator. All the while, Kubel was eagerly waiting for the building to reopen, albeit with 60 fewer studios.
She signed a lease in December to move in on July 1, and the time was fast approaching.
And then she was told her lease for what is now simply known as 915 Spring Garden was terminated.
Kubel believes it was because she was quoted in The Inquirer in a story published on June 13 as complaining that her once-$375 monthly rent was now $500, not including a $25-a-month utility fee and $550 a year for insurance.
“They took a building that was for over 30 years available to average-income-level artists, and they turned it into a rich person’s place,” Kubel said in the article.
The article centered on the retail brand United by Blue and how the relocation of its corporate offices from Old City to a former tannery at 444 N. Third St. may have validated Arts & Crafts’ efforts to revamp the once-industrial area. In response to Kubel’s comment, Arts & Crafts partner Craig Grossman said in the article that rents went up to pay for new sprinkler and heating systems.
Ten days after the article, Kubel received a certified letter dated June 17 from Arts & Crafts informing her that her lease was being terminated under terms of “Paragraph 3 of the License Agreement," which reads: “Licensor may in its sole discretion upon 30 days prior written notice terminate this agreement and license granted herein for any reason.”
Kubel put her anger into writing and emailed a letter to the editor to The Inquirer. Dated July 2, the letter’s subject line was “Philly Gentrification.” She wrote:
"...Arts & Crafts Holdings is a real estate empire. They are packaged as an ‘innovative’ and ‘creative’ property holder. They only allow ‘free speech’ that applauds their business activities. My experience makes it apparent that this empire does not value individual creativity or free speech. Arts & Crafts Holdings is utilizing its hold on real estate to strangle public dialogue.”
Michelle Goldman, director of leasing and acquisition for Arts & Crafts, said the decision to terminate Kubel’s lease had nothing to do with her public criticism of the rent. But Goldman would not share the reason for the termination, which she said was decided before the article’s publication.
“The timing was unfortunate,” Goldman said. “The letter was in the process before [the article came out]. It had nothing to do with the article.” She said the mailing had been delayed because the lawyer who prepared it couldn’t get it to Arts & Crafts before a trip out of town.
In addition to putting in a fire sprinkler system, Goldman said, other reasons for the increase in rent included the cost of the additional staircase and elevator.
“I was told by one of the [artist] tenants who came back that when the fire occurred, there was only one staircase, and as the firemen were trying to go up the stairs to fight the fire, people were trying to go down" to escape, she said. "It was a dangerous situation.”
Arts & Crafts, which has bought more than two dozen properties in the Callowhill neighborhood in the last few years, has been the subject of recent criticism for its efforts to form a Business Improvement District, which would impose a tax on property owners within its boundaries to pay for cleaning and improvements.