Ladies and gentlemen, Bart Blatstein has left Northern Liberties. Thank you, and good night.
The developer has sold the industrial building on Third Street south of Poplar Street that for years had housed his Tower Investments Inc. He has moved the company to offices near his opulent new home on Rittenhouse Square.
The sale in December capped a year of transactions that have diminished Blatstein's once-vast real estate footprint in the neighborhood north of Center City, which he had a significant hand in reshaping through his Piazza at Schmidts mixed-use complex and associated projects.
"It's a process of deciding which pieces I should develop and which pieces others should develop," he said. But "it was very difficult, emotionally, for me leaving that neighborhood, because I love that neighborhood."
Blatstein spent much of the 2000s developing the Piazza project and the attached Liberties Walk apartment and retail street on land that included the former site of the Schmidt's brewery that he acquired in 2000.
He sold most of those assets in 2013 to New York's Kushner Cos., run at the time by now-presidential-son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Oaktree Capital Management LP of Los Angeles for a reported $130 million. Oaktree has recently been said to be seeking to divest its stake in the property, since renamed Schmidt's Commons.
During the roughly decade and a half that Tower was based in Northern Liberties, its offices moved from what's now the Tendenza wedding hall at 969 N. Second St. to the Rialto office building developed at 1033 N. Second St. as part of the Piazza project and to the just-sold industrial building.
Blatstein's recent round of property sales in the neighborhood started in December 2016, when Palm Beach, Fla.-based retail landlord the Sterling Organization acquired the developer's Shops at Schmidts complex, anchored by an Acme Market, at Second Street and Girard Avenue for $31.5 million. In a case currently before a Common Pleas Court judge, Sterling claims that Blatstein had withheld rents paid by tenants even after he no longer owned the building, amid other complaints stemming from the deal.
Then, last June, catering mogul Joe Volpe's Cescaphe Event Group purchased the 6,000-square-foot Tendenza hall and an adjacent lot from Tower for a combined $7.8 million. Volpe, who had leased the Tendenza property for nearly a decade before buying it, and Blatstein are also said to be together developing the defunct Delaware Generating Station power plant near Penn Treaty Park in Fishtown into another events venue.
In August, meanwhile, an affiliate of South Philadelphia-based Streamline Group LLC paid $4.5 million for a more than half-acre cluster of properties across the street from the Shops at Schmidts retail center, according to property records filed with the city. The properties are part of the 1102-48 N. Second St. assemblage where Streamline plans a complex of duplex and apartments or condos encompassing 82 homes. Philadelphia's Civic Design Review board, which offers nonbinding suggestions on the city's biggest development projects as part of its zoning approval process, is scheduled to consider the proposal on Tuesday.
The string of Northern Liberties property sales ended in late December with the acquisition of the recent Tower headquarters at 817 N. Third St. by architect and developer Shimi Zakin, who also designed Blatstein's new home near the southwest corner of Rittenhouse Square. Zakin's A2Z Development LLC paid $2.75 million for the 8,050-square-foot structure on a 14,830-square-foot lot, where he plans a six-story, 48-unit apartment building.
Zakin said the project will be similar in design to the 32-unit apartment project he is developing on an adjacent lot at 807-15 N. Third St.
Even after these sales, Blatstein said he still owns "a considerable amount of real estate" in Northern Liberties, including the Rialto building — now home to Wahlburgers as a ground-floor restaurant tenant — and the Benjamin Moore paint store on Girard Avenue, as well as several undeveloped tracts.
Blatstein's Northern Liberties properties aren't the only ones to go on the block. In December, he also sold the eastern half of the sprawling Delaware River waterfront property in South Philadelphia, where a Foxwoods casino had once been planned, for $20.4 million. The buyer, National Realty Investment Advisors of Secaucus, N.J., plans a complex of at least 169 row houses there designed by Zakin's architecture firm.
Purchases made by Blatstein alongside these sales include his reported $6 million acquisition of several properties in Atlantic City and his $19.6 million purchase of a four-acre parcel at Broad Street and Washington Avenue, where he previously proposed a 32-story tower atop a large retail-and-parking structure.
In 2017, he also paid $1.83 million for the Colonial Revival-style row-house property at 1719 South Rittenhouse Square that now serves as Tower Investments' headquarters. Blatstein said he moved his office there so he can easily walk between it and his home, which is barely a block to the west, but that his "heart" remains in Northern Liberties.
"Rittenhouse Square is great, but I do miss the old neighborhood," he said.