Crowdfunding backing Manayunk retail, office project

"By the people,for the people": A developer is using crowdfunding to help finance the redevelopment of this building at114 Green Lane in Manayunk for retail, office, and event space.
"By the people,for the people": A developer is using crowdfunding to help finance the redevelopment of this building at114 Green Lane in Manayunk for retail, office, and event space. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 15, 2013

A recently launched crowdfunding campaign will give Pennsylvania residents the chance to invest in real estate while challenging the traditional financing model.

"It is a whole new generation of development," said Daniel Miller, cofounder of Washington-based Fundrise L.L.C., an online platform that allows individuals to invest as little as $100 in real estate development.

With the assistance of Fundrise, developer Shift Capital is hoping to raise $500,000 of the $3 million it needs to rehab the 7,500-square-foot future Manayunk home of the Transfer Station, which will offer retail, office, and event space for paying members to share.

"This type of project would appear very risky from the bank's perspective," said economist Sam Chandan, who teaches real estate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Though demand for coworking space is growing in other cities, projects of this size, especially those that lack strong credit-quality tenants, are unlikely to receive bank financing, Chandan said.

The banking industry's hesitancy to lend money for smaller projects - even those with substantial community support - presents a challenge to developers, who may need to use more creative methods to obtain capital.

A large investor may not recognize this as an opportunity, but community members who pass the long-vacant industrial building might, said Ethan Mollick, a Wharton professor who specializes in crowdfunding.

For Transfer Station cofounder Simon Rogers, the value goes beyond dollars. "This is a by-the-people, for-the-people project," he said.

More than 500 people already have expressed interest in reserving space at Transfer Station's temporary Manayunk location at 4120 Main St., which will open in a few weeks, Rogers said.

Even if community members recognize the building's potential, they should still heed caution, observers say.

"An investor, in many ways, has the same concerns as the bank," said Jay Goldstein, president of Philadelphia-based Valley Green Bank. "What kind of reward are they looking for? Is it purely financial? Is there some sort of intrinsic value?"

The return on investment has yet to be finalized for the 114 Green Lane development, but typically Fundrise projects yield 8 percent to 12 percent, said Miller, who got his M.B.A. from Wharton in 2010.

Mollick suggested researching the reputation of the people managing the project and their level of capital investment, but he added that crowdfunding helps lower the risk of a potential scam.

"You are using the wisdom of the crowd," he said. "If something is fishy, one of them will flag it."

Mollick's research shows that less than 1 percent of the money pledged to fully funded Kickstarter projects is not delivered.


 "We think this is the most efficient and powerful way for people to invest and shape their community," Miller said.

Fundrise also plans to raise funds to rehab a Brewerytown retail property and convert a Mount Airy building into a bed-and-breakfast.


aburdo@philly.com

215-854-2980 @newsburd

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