Developer Carlos Herrera, who came the United States from Venezuela as a teen, is under contract to buy the pier on the Delaware River waterfront where a Trump Tower Philadelphia had been planned before the last economic downturn.
Herrera's company, Herrco Builders, is set to construct 41 townhouses on Pier 35½ at Delaware and Fairmount Avenues under a plan devised by the venture selling the property.
"It's ironic," Herrera said of the fact that the 2.13-acre property last eyed by now-President Trump, who has disparaged Latin American immigrants as stealing U.S. jobs, is now his to develop.
But he said he doesn't think it was the Trump Tower development team's fault that the building was never completed, as it was among countless projects across the country to be thwarted by the Great Recession.
When it was proposed, the 45-story Trump Tower condo-and-hotel project — with 263 units, a landscaped garden, and a high-end spa — was to be completed by mid-2008.
"Trump Tower Philadelphia is going to create a mark the likes of which Philadelphia has never seen before. It's going to bring it into world class," Trump said of the $300 million project in a promotional online video at the time. "Everybody is going to try and catch up with us. They won't be able to do it."
By the time the necessary permits and building rights had been acquired from the city, however, the nation's real estate market had begun its collapse, dooming the project and many others. By 2013, the corporate entity formed to develop the tower had filed for bankruptcy.
Two years later, the property was acquired by a group involving real estate firm Shovel Ready Projects LLC and music-venue mogul Adam Spivak, who last week sold the Electric Factory concert business he owned with partner Larry Magid.
After buying the pier property, the Spivak-Shovel Ready group commissioned plans for a townhouse project there from Philadelphia-based architecture studio Cecil Baker & Partners.
Herrera said he plans to follow through with those plans after completing his acquisition of the site. Shovel Ready declined before the deal's closing to disclose the purchase price for the property, which had been listed for sale with plans and permits at $12.3 million.
The project will be Herrera's largest as a developer and his most complex, with the pier-top location adding new engineering and logistical challenges, such as the need to coordinate with the Environmental Protection Agency and other government entities.
"It's very unique in the city," Herrera said of the site.
Herrera and his family moved to Philadelphia when he was 16, coming from Venezuela with his father, who had a visa to perform construction work in the United States. Herrera became a U.S. citizen after serving in the Army.
Following his discharge from the military, Herrera went into business buying and renovating modest North Philadelphia homes before moving on to bigger projects throughout the city as a contractor and later as a developer. He has built more than 400 homes over the last decade or so, in areas such as Fishtown, Northern Liberties, Point Breeze and University City, he said.
Shovel Ready spokesman George Polgar said in an email that multiple developers had made adequate monetary offers for the property, but that Herrera stood out because of his evident ability to see the project through.
"Herrco was chosen as the preferred developer based on his track record," Polgar said. "This was a choice based on merit and good chemistry."