Toll Brothers is retreating from Jewelers’ Row, business group says

toll brothers is retreating from jewelers’ row, business group says

Toll Brothers had demolished existing buildings and planned to build a high rise near Seventh and Sansom.

Three years ago, Toll Brothers began demolishing a chunk of Philadelphia’s Jewelers Row to make way for a luxury high-rise condominium building.

And then: nothing. As the pandemic hit Philadelphia, many high-end residents moved temporarily out of the city, and questions were raised about the viability of the ultra-luxury residential market. Now a huge vacant lot sits on Jewelers’ Row.

But last week, the business advocacy group for Jewelers’ Row learned that Toll Brothers is abandoning its plans and selling the vacant lot to Pearl Properties, a Philadelphia-based developer and rental company that owns many historic residential buildings.

“Jim Pearlstein, who is the president of Pearl Properties, reached out to me directly” to say they had acquired the site, said Rich Goldberg, president of the Jewelers’ Row District.

Jewelers Row condo-tower developer Toll Bros. pauses work amid coronavirus uncertainty

Goldberg said that Pearl Properties does not have exact plans yet, but that construction could begin as early as mid-2023.

Neither Pearl Properties or Toll Brothers would comment.

“They plan on taking the next six months to lay out their own plans for the site,” said Goldberg, who owns Safian & Rudolph Jewelers. “It sounds like it would most likely be something similar, but incorporating retail and possibly a restaurant on the ground level.”

Goldberg said that Toll Brothers had been in contact about their deliberations and that they felt they could not pursue their original plan because too much had changed in the local development environment.

The ultra-luxury condominium market had a moment in the post-Great Recession years, as developers like Carl Dranoff and Tom Scannapieco delivered Center City high rises that were largely targeted toward regional elites who historically lived in the suburbs. The Toll Brothers project was aimed at a similar market.

But the pandemic has complicated that proposition, as many wealthy residents retreated back to the suburbs. It is not yet clear whether they will return in similar numbers, partly due to perceptions about crime and disorder in the city.

“Pre-pandemic everybody from the suburbs wanted to move to Philadelphia,” Scannapieco said in an October interview. “You go to suburban garden parties now, and you don’t hear people talk about moving to Center City. You hear people say, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll live in the suburbs for a while.’”

As Toll Brothers starts work on Jewelers Row tower, merchants wonder what’s next | Inga Saffron

It is not yet clear what demographic Pearl Properties might target with its project, but the rental market downtown remains strong and other major residential developers have been moving forward with high rise apartment buildings in Center City.

Pearl Properties owns historic apartment buildings on Walnut and Chestnut Streets in Center City, along with properties like the Cambria Hotel on Broad Street. Pearlstein is the chair of Center City District’s Central Philadelphia Development Corp.

The fight over Toll Brothers’ Jewelers Row proposal, and especially the demolition of four 1800s-to-early 1900s era structures, catalyzed the city’s historic preservation movement. In the six years since the developer’s plans became clear, the city has begun devoting additional resources to the Historical Commission, and advocates for protection against demolition have grown more numerous.

In 2019, Philadelphia’s Historical Commission began considering a historic district for Jewelers’ Row, but it was never approved.

“An empty dead site isn’t doing any favors to the businesses still operating, the people who live there, or the preservation community who wanted to see a different outcome,” said Patrick Grossi, of the Philadelphia Preservation Alliance. “In November 2022, the preferable outcome is to see it developed. That’s the only thing that will take a little bit of sting out of this.”

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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