Developer Ori Feibush out at controversial Bella Vista church site as new buyer takes over
The Christian Street Baptist Church is gone, and controversial developer Ori Feibush no longer has an agreement of sale for it. So who is this new buyer? A dive into property records offers some insight.
The lot is filled with crumbled bricks and wood. The nearly 130-year-old building is gone. But that's not all that's changed about the site where the Christian Street Baptist Church once stood.
Developer Ori Feibush is also out of the picture.
On July 26, the lot at 1020-24 Christian St. in Bella Vista was quietly sold to the locally owned MRR Investments Inc. for $1.5 million, property records show, capping months of speculation about the fate of the site since Feibush announced he would walk away from it. In June, the often-controversial South Philadelphia developer said he was transferring his agreement of sale to someone who would buy the land and develop it once the church was demolished.
At the time, Feibush provided no details about the new buyer or why the church needed to first be toppled — raising questions among critics about whether a buyer existed.
The property's fate has riled neighbors and preservationists since Feibush agreed to buy it for $1.5 million in 2017 — aiming to demolish the 1890s church and parish house, and build townhouses. Yet despite unsuccessful efforts among residents to nominate the property for historic preservation, and attempts to find a preservationist buyer (Feibush initially offered that option, then withdrew it), the buildings came down in July.
Now, at the lot, where demolition protesters gathered only three months ago, just two pink dumpsters and rubble remain. And though the sale has not been publicly announced, property records suggest what might be ahead.
According to Pennsylvania Department of State documents, MRR Investments was incorporated in December 2017 by Margarita Yakubova, a Philadelphian who has owned and traded more than a dozen properties citywide since 1997 — many of them rentals, and the majority in Northeast Philadelphia.
Yakubova's real estate deals were often not solo ventures. Instead, since her first purchase — a twin rental in Bustleton in 1997 — many of her properties have been purchased with or sold to Roman Mosheyev, a Philadelphian and licensed real estate agent who similarly has invested in more than 30 city properties in two decades, often using numerous LLCs. According to some records, Mosheyev also goes by Reuvan.
Mosheyev's name is not directly associated with the Christian Street site. In 2003, Yakubova gave Mosheyev special power of attorney that allowed him, records show, to indefinitely sell property, execute leases, and borrow money on her behalf.
Reached by phone, Mosheyev said he had a "connection" to the Christian Street site, but would not answer further questions or describe his involvement. Yakubova and Feibush did not return calls.
Exactly how Mosheyev and Yakubova became interested in 1020-24 Christian St. remains unclear. But Mosheyev is no stranger to Feibush. In May 2015, during Feibush's bid to unseat Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Mosheyev contributed $500 to the Friends of Ori Feibush campaign, a contribution that Feibush's campaign, among other donations, initially did not report, documents show.
Mosheyev has built a modest real estate business in the same way that dozens of developers in Philadelphia have — staying out of the limelight and carrying a handful of properties at any one time. Most of the properties that he and Yakubova have bought are single-family homes scattered in outlying areas — Northeast Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, Brewerytown, and elsewhere, records show. Most are renovated and flipped quickly, often for hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit.
In the last decade, records show, Mosheyev — under his name or LLC's — began putting up new buildings closer to Center City. In 2011, for example, Mosheyev purchased six vacant parcels along the 2000 block of Annin Street in Point Breeze for $159,000, records show, before transferring them to Phila Lifestyle Inc., registered in his name. Today, new rowhouses stand on the once-blighted block — most appearing to operate as rentals, though one is listed for sale for nearly $480,000.
In 2014, records show, Mosheyev, using the name Phila RnT Inc., purchased and demolished the New Hope Primitive Baptist Church in Mantua, redeveloping it into a three-story multi-family rental property. Earlier this year, he sold the property for $3.3 million — nearly an eightfold increase from the $430,000 he paid for it.
As for what's next at the Christian Street site in Bella Vista, details remain uncertain. In early August — less than two weeks after the property had been sold to MRR Investments — Feibush appeared in front of the Bella Vista Neighbors Association, pitching six residential units for the vacant site, with parking for each. To achieve the plans he presented, zoning relief would be needed. It was not clear why Feibush presented the plans even after the property had been sold.
That night, as they had in the past, the majority of neighbors in attendance voted against Feibush's proposal. Councilman Mark Squilla agreed. Philadelphia's Zoning Board of Adjustment, which also heard the application in August, has yet to make a decision.