Luxury living on Broad St.

Symphony House, a 31-story tower, will be unveiled tonight.

Posted: June 19, 2007

When the Kimmel Center was built at Broad and Spruce Streets in 2001, the city decided to sell off the parcel it controlled at Broad and Pine Streets.

The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., which owned the land on behalf of the city, put it up for bid and selected developer Carl Dranoff, who wanted to re-create the romance and glamor of the 1920s, when South Broad Street was at its height as the financial and cultural epicenter of the city.

Tonight, Dranoff will unveil the project that has been five years in the making: Symphony House on the Avenue of the Arts.

"It's my greatest masterpiece," Dranoff said of the 31-story luxury condominium tower that dominates the southeast corner of Broad and Pine.

Dranoff calls the building his "mini-Time Warner Center," where culture, the arts and fine dining meet high-rise luxury living.

Gov. Rendell, Mayor Street and other public officials who pushed to develop the Avenue of the Arts along Broad Street will be among the first to get a glimpse inside Symphony House.

"When we first suggested creating the Avenue of the Arts, this was part of the result that we had hoped for," Rendell, who was mayor when the Avenue of the Arts was christened, said of new construction such as Symphony House.

According to those involved in condominium sales, Symphony House has the distinction of being Center City's first luxury condominium high-rise built from the ground up.

Over the years, several luxury condo projects have been started only to be foreclosed on. Most luxury condos in the city are in buildings that have been converted from rental apartments or other uses. Another luxury condo that has been built recently is Waterfront Square Condominiums & Spa, where two of five towers planned for a site on Columbus Boulevard just north of Spring Garden Street have been completed.

"The Symphony House is viewed as a real bellwether project because it is the first high-end luxury new construction project in Center City," said Kevin Gillen, an economist from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who specializes in residential real estate and public policy. "You have Waterfront Square, but that's not core Center City. There are other new luxury conversions, but they are not new."

Built at a cost of $125 million, Symphony House is also the priciest of the new condo projects.

Starting price for a one-bedroom unit is $500,000; two bedrooms are priced in the mid-$900,000s; three bedrooms fetch $1.2 million to $1.3 million, and a pair of two-story penthouse units, each with 2,000 square feet of terrace space, sold for $5 million apiece. Eighty-five percent of the units have been sold, and 25 units remain. The first occupant moves in Monday.

"This is the very tippy-top," Gillen said. "Typically in Center City, you see units selling at $1,000 per square foot, and the highest-priced typically gets a unit overlooking Rittenhouse Square or a great view."

True to its name and theme, Symphony House is surrounded by some of the city's most prominent arts institutions and historic buildings, including the Kimmel Center and the Bellevue.

Symphony House also houses its own performing space - the 365-seat Suzanne Roberts Theatre on the ground floor - making it unique in the city.

The in-house theater and panoramic views of the city really sold Richy Josephs, 69, and his wife, Sandy, 67, on buying a three-bedroom unit at Symphony House. The two regularly take the train on weekends from their home in Upper Moreland, Montgomery County, to see shows in Center City.

"We looked at the Rittenhouse Square area," said Richy Josephs, a physicist who formed his own company 20 years ago in Horsham. "But the idea of moving into a new building where everyone else is a new tenant is attractive to us."

The Josephses, who will move in by the end of the year, are the quintessential empty nesters from the suburbs who make up about two-thirds of Dranoff's buyers. The other third already live in Center City and are younger professionals.

About 75 percent of the 163 units at Symphony House are two- and three-bedroom. About 10 percent are one-bedroom, and the rest are four- and five-bedroom. Most of the units have balconies, and some have terraces.

The eighth floor features a fitness center, 65-foot-long lap pool, library and relaxation room with a Steinway baby grand piano, a full-size chef's kitchen, a dining salon that seats 16 and a wine locker.

On the ground floor will be an Italian bistro, a sidewalk cafe and a grocery store.

"Our vision from the beginning was to build a building that was so ultraluxurious and amenity-rich that we would bring affluent people to the city that didn't have this choice before," Dranoff said during a tour of the pool area Friday as crews applied the finishing touches, such as the cedar siding on the walls.

Real estate experts say that what Dranoff has achieved with Symphony House is remarkable, given the tough residential condo market nationally and in Philadelphia.

"The fact he has developed a brand-new condo from the ground up, sold a good portion of the building, and managed the product and still kept control of it is a first," said Allan Domb of Allan Domb Real Estate, who specializes in the Center City luxury-condo market. "Everyone else lost their projects to lenders.

"For him to be standing there and be able to meet the first resident, that is a Philly first," Domb said. "It has not happened in 100 years. It is Philadelphia history being made."

Over the last decade, Dranoff has made his mark transforming large buildings into luxury residential properties, such as the $75 million Left Bank in West Philadelphia and the $65 million Victor building in Camden. With the completion of Symphony House, he will turn his attention to two other residential projects along Broad Street: a $250 million development with two towers at Broad and Washington, and a $75 million project at Broad and Fitzwater.

"We try to place bets on the next great neighborhood and then that's where we go," Dranoff said.


Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or sparmley@phillynews.com.

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