At this time last year, the tensions surrounding the century-old Christian Street Baptist Church in Bella Vista were climbing to a high, as preservationists and neighbors made last-ditch efforts to save the property amid developer Ori Feibush’s demolition plans.

A dozen protesters gathered outside the brick and terra-cotta church on a June 2018 morning, holding signs reading “Keep Your Word.” Two people who said they wanted to buy the church and preserve it pleaded with Feibush to change course. The church was in bad shape, said Feibush, a prominent Point Breeze developer, and would cost too much to save.

(Philadelphia is seen as lacking sufficient incentives to encourage developers to preserve buildings. A set of bills introduced Thursday by Councilman Mark Squilla could change that.)

Now, with the church razed, new activity has quietly started at the site. This week, the new owner of the property, MRR Investments Inc., began the early stages of construction of six luxury townhouses, which are expected to be completed next year.

MRR Investments Inc. took ownership of the site last July, property records show, purchasing it from the church for $1.5 million. Feibush had an agreement of sale with the church, but transferred his contract after he announced he would walk away.

The Christian Street Baptist Church, located at 1020-24 Christian St. in Bella Vista, was built for a growing community of Italian immigrants in the 1890s. It was later occupied by an African American congregation, which ultimately decided to sell the property last year.
JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
The Christian Street Baptist Church, located at 1020-24 Christian St. in Bella Vista, was built for a growing community of Italian immigrants in the 1890s. It was later occupied by an African American congregation, which ultimately decided to sell the property last year.

According to records filed with the state, MRR Investments was incorporated in December 2017 by Margarita Yakubova, a Philadelphian, although Reuvan Mosheyev, a Philadelphia developer, said this week that he is “basically the owner.” In 2003, property records show, Yakubova gave Mosheyev a special power of attorney that allowed him to sell property, sign deeds, and borrow money on her behalf. According to some property records, Mosheyev also goes by the first name Roman.

Mosheyev has developed numerous newly constructed single-family and multifamily projects across Philadelphia, including in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, where he built, for example, a condo project on the 2000 block of Kimball Street and a single-family house on the 1800 block of Christian Street.

He said that each of the six townhouses built on the church site would be four stories, or 38 feet tall. Two of the townhouses will face Christian, while four will face Salter Street, a narrow street directly south. The L-shaped parcel, which previously contained the sanctuary and a building behind it, has roughly 3,200 square feet. The homes on Christian, Mosheyev said, will be slightly larger than the others.

MRR Investments was granted permits this week for construction.

The houses that face Christian, Mosheyev said, will be built with glass tile facades and have an elevator from the basement to the roof deck. Mosheyev said he expects to price these properties between $1.8 million and $2 million.

The Salter Street houses will be built with partial glass facades. They will have no elevators, but will be built with pilot houses that will access roof decks. In addition to glass, all six will be built with other materials, including brick and panels. Mosheyev said he expects to sell the Salter houses for $1.3 million to $1.5 million.

All six will have parking, accessed via Christian. The Salter houses will have two-car garages in the back. The Christian houses also will have parking shelters large enough for two cars each behind the properties.

The cleared Christian Street Baptist Church site, photographed in 2018. Neighbors and preservationists fought hard to save it, but ultimately lost.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
The cleared Christian Street Baptist Church site, photographed in 2018. Neighbors and preservationists fought hard to save it, but ultimately lost.

Mosheyev said he believes his project will yield “spectacular" homes, which he said would be “done really, really well.”

“I have put in a lot of effort to do what I have to do,” Mosheyev said. “It’s going to be a high-end project that’s going to compete with $2.5 million to $3 million homes."

Located at 1020-24 Christian, Mosheyev’s site is centered in the heart of a fast-changing neighborhood. Bella Vista, home to the Italian Market, has seen home prices rise dramatically. From the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2018, the median price of a home in the 19147 zip code rose 56 percent to $416,000, according to data provided by Kevin Gillen, a senior research fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation.

Still, million-dollar sales are less common in the neighborhood than in other areas, such as Rittenhouse Square, Chestnut Hill, and Fitler Square. According to Gillen’s data, there were 22 sales of million-dollar homes across the city during 2019′s first quarter, which stretches from January to March.

Even so, Mosheyev said he is confident his project can fetch what he is asking because of the parking and materials he is offering.

The 1000 block of Christian is made up of many older three-story brick houses, as well as nearby businesses, such as a pastry shop and a salon. Still, plenty of new construction has popped up in the neighborhood, initially home to Italian, Irish, and African American residents.

Beyond Christian, MRR has purchased a handful of other properties in the city this year, property records show, including another Bella Vista location as well as parcels in West Philadelphia.

The 1000 block of Christian Street is mostly rowhouses.
CAITLIN MCCABE
The 1000 block of Christian Street is mostly rowhouses.