WHEN IT comes to large vacant buildings, developer Tony Rufo knows how to spot potential.
More than a year ago, Rufo transformed the shuttered Nathaniel Hawthorne School into the Hawthorne Lofts: 53 units of luxury loft-style condominiums. The development offers floor-to-ceiling windows, a roof deck with a stunning view of Center City and ultra-low taxes thanks to a 10-year tax break from the city. According to Rufo’s website, every unit has sold.
But 2 miles south, just around the corner from South Philadelphia High School, sits a very different kind of Rufo property. The hulking, vacant warehouse at 12th and Jackson streets, purchased by a company linked to Rufo in 2007 for $2.5 million, has been a trouble spot.
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The former paintbrush factory that spans over an acre is covered with hundreds of broken windows. The facility is poorly lit. Illegal dumping and graffiti are rampant, says Kim Massare, president of the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association.
“It’s a space that people feel they need to avoid,” Massare says.
Property maintenance isn’t the only problem. Rufo’s company hasn’t paid property taxes on the warehouse since 2009 and owes the city $168,363.
Rufo is tied to other problem properties. According to city records, multiple companies linked to Rufo, including TR-Philadelphia LP and TR-Jackson LP, own at least 22 properties on which they owe the city $290,596 in back property taxes dating to 2009. The companies are linked to Rufo through court records and addresses.
One of those properties is a large, vacant warehouse in Kensington, owned by a company linked to Rufo called TR-Gretz LP, that neighbors say is a nuisance. Shortly after Kensington’s Thomas Buck Hosiery factory tragically burned down, killing two firefighters, TR-Gretz LP paid the nearly $21,000 it owed in taxes on its own Kensington factory.
Rufo also owns five properties under his own name. On those, he’s up to date on his real estate taxes.
It seems there are two Rufos: There’s the Conshohocken-based luxury residential developer who’s been behind dozens of high-end units and has been credited with revitalizing the Hawthorne neighborhood. And there’s the landowner with deadbeat companies connected to him that collect properties around the city but don’t obey property maintenance or tax laws.