The Build: Walkable, transit-oriented rentals in Malvern

Eastside Flats apartments developer David Della Porta stands outside the nearly completed first building.A second building is planned, for a total of 190 units.
Eastside Flats apartments developer David Della Porta stands outside the nearly completed first building.A second building is planned, for a total of 190 units. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 22, 2013

More than a decade ago, Villanova-based developer David Della Porta says, he became convinced that demographic trends were favoring rentals over sales, and urban-style living over two-acre suburban properties.

That meant building something walkable and transit-oriented, in a place where the renters' pool was vast and the competition small.

Partnering with developers Eli Kahn of Downingtown and Florida-based Gary Toll as 237 King Partners L.L.C., Della Porta, president of Cornerstone Communities, believed that Malvern Borough had all the necessary ingredients.

"What we were doing was rebuilding the whole east side of Malvern," said Della Porta, who with Kahn and Jack Lowe Associates also is building the 205-unit Chestnut Square apartments in downtown West Chester.

It took more than 10 years to acquire a five-acre Malvern site comprising 13 industrial parcels between East King Street and the railroad tracks. But Della Porta - standing one recent afternoon across the street from the nearly finished first of two four-story buildings at his $46 million, 190-unit Eastside Flats project - is convinced that his hunch was right.

The first tenants began moving in Sept. 8, he said.

"We were 25 percent to 30 percent rented before we finished the model," said Della Porta, looking east up King Street toward the Vanguard Group, Paoli Memorial Hospital, and Great Valley Corporate Center - all of which can be major sources of tenants for Eastside Flats.

"The downturn proved that buying a home is not the greatest investment you can make," he said. "The myths about why people rent have been busted."

As Cornerstone Communities, the Germantown-born, Villanova-educated Della Porta, who started out as a lawyer, has built more than 600 single-family houses, plus 1,500 condos and rental apartments, since he left Realen Homes in 1996 to strike out on his own.

He readily acknowledged that "not everyone wants to rent."

"A lot more people do than before, however, and owing to the aging of the baby boomer generation and the much-larger 'millennials' group delaying home buying, there will be a greater propensity to rent for the next 20 years," Della Porta said.

Among the millennials, 65 percent will rent rather than own between the ages of 18 and 34, he said, "the flip side of those 35 to 50."

Thus far, tenants for his apartments - one- to two-bedroom units renting for $1,390 a month for 645 square feet to $2,710 for 1,496 square feet - fall into the "everybody but young families" category, he said.

"There are a surprising number of empty nesters who are coming from around Malvern, looking for an urban lifestyle but not wanting to move into the city," Della Porta said.

And a healthy lifestyle, too, he believes - this is a nonsmoking building. It's also Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified and an eight-minute walk to the Malvern station on the Paoli-Thorndale line.

Bozzuto Group, of Greenbelt, Md., was the general contractor for the project, designed by Heffner Associates of Alexandria, Va., "to reflect styles of the different periods during which Malvern was built," said Della Porta, who is partnering with Bozzuto on a Newtown Square project.

Bozzuto Management Co. will manage the Malvern property.

Eastside Flats will have 27,000 square feet of retail space, including a 5,000-square-foot as-yet-unbuilt structure that will be leased by Kimberton Whole Foods - a drawing card for Wayne restaurateur Chris Todd.

"If everything goes according to schedule," Todd said, he will open his second Christopher's location there in April.

"I'd been looking for a place for a couple of years, and Eli [Kahn] had approached me about Malvern," he said, adding that the borough "reminds me of what Wayne was like 12 years ago," when he opened.

"This isn't to put down Malvern, which has very active restaurants and stores and a great customer base," Todd said. But being adjacent to Kimberton Whole Foods "gives me a lot more exposure."

Todd said he was concerned about residents' reaction to Eastside Flats, but "when I attended a council meeting on the transfer of a liquor license to us, I had the impression that people were not disappointed."

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, or @alheavens at Twitter.

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