Who's going to live in all those new Main Line apartments?
Hospital workers, college students - and Philadelphia residents who want to enroll their children in Lower Merion public schools, says Steven Rock, senior vice president at New York-based Marcus & Millichap Capital Corp.
Rock has arranged $23.5 million in financing for Cross Properties (that's David Blumenfeld and Kevin Michals) to build 132 apartments, plus medical offices, at the former Baptist seminary on Lancaster Avenue near Lankenau Hospital.
That's one of several apartment projects picking up planning, zoning, and financing approvals in Lower Merion.
There are also Merloc Partners' plan to build 250 apartments near the Wynnewood SEPTA station; Carl Dranoff's Ardmore Place (121 units); Nolen Properties' Righters Ferry Road project (284 units); and, on the Schuylkill, the former Connelly Container Corp. and Pencoyd Iron Works (580 units), by developer Brian O'Neill. Some other projects are still under wraps.
Apartments would also fit at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, east of Lancaster Avenue, says Robert Duncan, township director of planning and building. Overall, "the banks are ready, and they're all coming together," he told me.
Supporters hope these apartments will deliver more shoppers to Ardmore, and more workers for aging offices owned by landlords like redeveloper William Glazer's Keystone Property Group.
And more students to Lower Merion's costly public schools? Few Montgomery County apartment dwellers have school-age children, says township Planning Commissioner Brian O'Leary. Though there could be more kids among new arrivals, he added.
Not everyone believes there are enough tenants to build all those dwellings.
"A lot of apartments are being built on speculation by investors and developers who are no longer building office buildings and strip centers, due to the way the Internet has changed corporate life and retail sales," apartment manager Helen Aster, president of HarrisonRichards Inc., which rents apartments in Lower Merion and Philadelphia, told me.
Aster notes "For Rent" signs on Montgomery Avenue and free-month offers by managers with vacancies. "And that's before all the new units will be built," she added.
A wave of Philadelphians moved to Main Line apartments in the 1960s. So many were built that many went condo in the 1970s as the cycle crashed, Aster says.
Cross Properties, at least, is getting in early.
Philadelphia's "unusual" plan to bail out its public schools with a $50 million loan will help slow the drain of students to charter schools (which enroll one-third of the city's taxpayer-financed students, up from one-sixth five years ago), says credit analyst Michael D'Arcy in a report for Moody's Investors Service.
But bigger, longer-term school bailouts by Philadelphia city government "would be credit-negative for the city," and could force the city to pay more to borrow money, D'Arcy warned.
He blamed Pennsylvania's elimination of subsidies to districts that lost students to charter schools, and school funding cuts (by Gov. Corbett and the General Assembly), for the schools' "financial turmoil."
Mayor Nutter's loan offer "is unprecedented," D'Arcy added. "Typically, more senior levels of government, such as the state, assume such a role," D'Arcy added.
If state officials were purposely trying to drive city tenants toward suburban developers, it's hard to see what they'd do any differently.