"I told my younger brothers this was a safe and friendly part of town," Levi said, ready for rebirth and still affordable for those starting out as renters or homeowners. Or as developers - their first property was 1326-28 N. Sixth St., renovated as four units for multifamily use.
Since then, Levi and his brothers have joined in real estate development and the construction business in a big way, buying and redeveloping a series of lots along North Sixth Street.
Middle brother Shimon Levy has purchased 1324 N. Sixth, a two-unit building, and 1314 N. Sixth, which houses three condos.
The brothers also have properties on the 1300 block of North Seventh Street and negotiated for 1337 N. Franklin St.
"The neighbors are starting to call it 'Nati's Village,' " Netanel Levi said, laughing.
The brothers represent an immigrant success story. Netanel, the oldest, emigrated from Israel after serving in the army there from 1995 to 1999. He came to Philadelphia in 2000, managed a store in King of Prussia, and eventually got his real estate license and worked with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Fox & Roach.
Shimon Levy moved to the United States to work in construction. They founded Wynnewood-based Santech Construction and plan to bring in their younger brother, Bar Levy, who hopes to study in the architecture degree program at Drexel University.
The family business focuses on both renovations and new construction.
"People have decided not to sell or not to move, and they're investing that money into renovation. We're taking advantage of that market," Netanel Levi said.
Because the brothers do their own construction, he said, "we can buy a plot of land for $35,000, build, say, three apartment units or condos for about $350,000, and sell for a total of about $750,000."
Not only that, Levi said, but by developing side-by-side lots, "we've created the market on this block."
Levi and his brothers are wrapping up construction of condos at 1307-09 N. Sixth St., which they are marketing to Temple University and Tyler School of Art students and to families with children, given the elementary school next door and the Girard Avenue shops two blocks south. Each building has four units, ranging in price from $240,000 to $299,000, with one to two bedrooms. Some have roof decks.
Netanel Levi wants to work with the city regarding the mural at 1319 N. Sixth St., one of the properties they have purchased in the last few years for development. An adjacent lot they own is empty, and the mural, Tribute to Otis Thomas by artist Robert Raven Rapisarda, faces James Ludlow Elementary's playground.
The Mural Arts Program says developers need not worry. Sometimes, director of communications Jennifer McCreary said, there's a usable wall on a new building for an updated mural. Other times, there's a way to save the old mural.
"Development is good," McCreary said. "That's how we view it."