Philadelphia's nightclub scene may soon be rocked by a 24-year-old dance-music impresario from Connecticut. And his mother.
James and Micheline De Berardine are transforming an aged office building near 12th and Vine Streets into what they say will be the city's biggest and most technically sophisticated dance venue.
The club, to be called NOTO - short for "Not of the Ordinary" - is part of the De Berardines' plans for Vine Street just north of Chinatown, which also include 99 new apartments.
Promised at the dance venue are name-brand DJs from the Las Vegas-Amsterdam-Ibiza circuit, a speaker system built by Finnish soundsmiths, and VIP seating with flowing bottle-service champagne.
"It's going to have all the latest and greatest of everything," James De Berardine said in an interview.
"It's going to be phenomenal," his mother added.
The De Berardines' arrival from Weston, Conn., shows that Philadelphia real estate continues to attract investors from outside the region. But Christophe Terlizzi, regional head of KeyBank's commercial real estate practice, said he's always troubled to see new market entrants without institutional backing or obvious development experience.
"That's usually associated with the peak of the market," he said.
The De Berardines started off wanting to build a club where James De Berardine could score bookings through what he characterized as high-level contacts in the dance-music world. They decided on Philadelphia after vetting it against other cities, Micheline said.
The pair paid $6 million for the 60,000-square-foot office building at 1209 Vine St. in February, according to records filed with the city. Plans call for a 1,000-person capacity club with offices on the building's upper levels.
The family later decided to buy the vacant lot next door to build a 16-story apartment building with a high-tech automated parking system. That plan will be presented to the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. on Tuesday, said Sarah Yeung, the group's planning director.
Anticipated in the building are two ground-floor restaurant spaces, one to be run by Philadelphia chef Sylva Senat of Dos Tacos, James De Berardine said. Food at NOTO also will come from Senat's kitchen, he said.
The De Berardines declined to discuss their budget for the projects.
Micheline De Berardine said her background in development comes from her work as a real estate lawyer in New York and her participation in projects outside Philadelphia, though she declined to identify any, citing nondisclosure agreements.
James De Berardine, meanwhile, said he will be able to attract some of the world's best DJs, thanks to his work "behind the scenes in the dance-music industry." He also declined to elaborate, citing his own nondisclosure deals.
The pair haven't previously discussed their plans publicly.
But Tracy Washinsky, an event producer in Philadelphia who has booked and managed DJs, said rumors about NOTO have been circulating among dance-music fans, who hope it will fill a void in the city's club scene.
While smaller venues such as Recess Lounge and Rumor exist, Philadelphia doesn't have a "power club," like Mansion in Miami or Tao in Las Vegas, Washinsky said.
The De Berardines selected the club's location because of its proximity to the hip neighborhoods north of Center City, whose youthful residents the club will target, Micheline De Berardine said.
Aiding their efforts is the newly permissive zoning in the area, which was remapped last year to include nightclubs among uses that need no special approvals.
Community leaders in Chinatown planned after that zoning change to carry northward a nightclub prohibition south of Vine, but work began on NOTO before they could start to do so, Yeung said.
"We don't think this is the right place for a nightclub," she said. "This is a family neighborhood."
James De Berardine said most of the Chinatown leaders' concerns will be addressed with the installation of state-of-the-art soundproofing, the implementation of a security detail, and other steps.
For the talent he hopes to attract, meanwhile, he plans to invest in top-of-the-line speakers from sound-system manufacturer Genelec of Finland and an in-house studio for use by traveling DJs, he said.
Those are touches that could help draw the level of entertainment needed to make the club a success, but they won't be enough on their own, Washinsky said.
"The ability to bring in the talent has to do with relationships - and budget," she said.