Real estate developer Carl Dranoff is conquering yet another Philly zip code with his latest project, One Riverside.
It was the early 1960s. Every Saturday, young Carl Dranoff would leave Passmore Street in Northeast Philadelphia, take the Route 59 bus to the Frankford El, and hang out with friends in Center City. At holiday time, he was apt to hit the best train displays in town—Wanamaker’s, at 13th and Market, and Snellenburg’s, a few blocks east.
“I always had Erector sets and HO-scale trains and built my own villages. I could control everything,” says Dranoff, who found architectural inspiration in the department store displays. “I could actually build my buildings and determine where I wanted them to go. It started with the train sets.”
Over the last four decades, Dranoff has gone beyond Erector sets and HO-scale trains, but his propensity for order, and his love for his hometown, has made him one of the transformers of the inner city, particularly on the residential side. From the first high-rise, near Broad Street, in the 1970s, to the renovation of warehouses and factory buildings into apartments, making Old City viable, in the 1980s, to the rediscovery of South Broad Street and both banks of the Schuylkill in recent years, Dranoff has determined where he wants to see people live in Philadelphia.
Units at One Riverside will be awash in natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows.
“I stayed in Philadelphia because I love the city,” says Dranoff from his Dranoff Properties office at Broad and Fitzwater, a now fashionable address where hardly anyone ventured just a few years ago. “I really thought if you were going to be successful in real estate, you have to be able to kick the bricks. You have to know what is really going on. You have to know what the trends are, what the movements are.”
Right now, Dranoff believes the trends and movements for Philadelphia all point toward a big upswing in high-end, high-rise living. It is not quite Manhattan, because there is no international money, but it is distinctly Philadelphian, with local Baby Boomers selling their Radnor or Moorestown homes—or even the townhouses they already had in the city—looking for a “lock-and-leave lifestyle” with maintenance and worry handled by the concierge. Another factor is the onslaught of the urban millennials, who he believes will have a propensity to stick around as they age.
The project he calls “as bull’s-eye as you can possibly get” is One Riverside, an 88-unit condominium along the Schuylkill near Locust Street. Though he has built Symphony House and two other successful high-rises along South Broad Street in the last few years, and has other big projects getting ready at Broad and Spruce (the SLS International Hotel and Residences) and along the western stretches of South Street, his ardor for the new 22-story One Riverside pulls the normally calm 66-year-old Dranoff to run-on excitement.
“Number one, it is on a park, and it is gorgeous. If you go there on a June morning, you are overrun with joggers, bikers, Segways, dogs,” he says. “You are on the river, so anything that is high, you have unsurpassed views.
SouthStar Lofts, opened last year on the Avenue of the Arts, embodies the style, service, and amenities associated with Dranoff’s properties.
“You are within walking distance of everything. Fitler Square has become the hottest area in the city,” he adds. He sees a new sort of river life along the Schuylkill, where residents use both Center City and University City (“I think 60 percent of all the building cranes in the city are on Drexel’s campus,” he says) as hubs for working, shopping, and playing.
Dranoff says amenities in residential buildings are going to become more important, and he feels he needs to make One Riverside the vanguard of that. Instead of just a pool and a fitness center, the building will have saunas and steam rooms and openings to a terrace. It will have a Club Room, but also a kitchen where residents can bring in chefs for functions. It will have a business center, but also a state-of-the-art boardroom. There will even be a suite available for rent for guests—no more sending cousins to a far-off hotel. There will be dry storage for deliveries, but also cold storage for those who now use FreshDirect and the like for food shopping.
Dranoff notes that when he was in his 30s and renovating former industrial buildings into lofts in Old City, he was mostly playing to his own friends, who wanted a hip city life. Now that he is in his 60s, he is admittedly looking at those same folks, who have lived a few decades in the rat race and now want to ease into the next phase, but with style.
“They are tired of going up and down steps. They are getting tired of maintenance, of aging facilities. They want the services of a high-rise building,” says the man always ready to play with his adult Erector sets. “We are always looking for the next best thing.”