When asked how she decided to buy a townhouse in Liberty Court - the crown jewel of Philadelphia's new upscale housing boom - Marlyn Kline has a ready answer.
Kline, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, was showing a client around the development. "We were walking around, and I kept talking about how terrific the place looked. My client said, 'If you like it so much, why don't you buy one?' So I whipped out my checkbook and left a deposit right there. We'll be the first occupants in October."
Arthur Fefferman loves stories like this one.
Fefferman, of Manhattan's AFC Realty Group, has been involved in Philadelphia real estate for 25 years - starting with Independence Place in 1980 - and he wants his new homeowners to feel just as strongly about Liberty Court as he does.
Fefferman was first approached about taking over the project - the site of an old parking lot that covers the expanse of Lombard to South streets and Second to Third streets - after the original developer had already built the first set of townhouses along the 200 block of Lombard Street, but then ran into financial issues that led him to bow out of the deal.
Fefferman said he realized: "I had the opportunity to do something significant in this historic neighborhood, something special. I went to London, where they have lovely townhouses in neighborhoods like Kensington and Mayfair. When I came back, I showed photos of these homes to my architect [the Philadelphia firm Barton & Associates] and said, 'This is what we should do.' "
Old Meets New
The result is a 35-unit community built with a nod to the Second Empire-style of architecture popular in Europe during the 19th century, complete with mansard roofs and bay windows.
Brett Altman of the Altman Group, Fefferman's development partner, implemented some 21st-century touches as well.
Altman, currently serving on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Housing Committee, has made sure that each home comes with details like thermal pane windows, state- of-the-art security systems and hand-laid designer tile floors.
Those design touches made an impression on Russell Labowitz, but it was the modern amenities that convinced the Delaware-based rheumatologist to finally make the move back to his hometown: "My wife Susan and I really looked around. We wanted to be in Center City - we're there almost every other weekend - and we were deciding between a condo and a townhouse. This bought us a little more room, and a lot of the modern features older townhouses don't have, like an elevator."
There are a few other amenities that come standard with the $1.3 million to $1.8 million purchase price of a Liberty Court townhouse. Each of the three remaining model types has at least a one-car garage, multiple decks with stunning views of the city skyline, Viking ranges, granite countertops, Kohler fixtures, Brookhaven cabinetry - there are even two frost-free exterior hose bibs.
With all these varying luxuries, what is Fefferman's target demographic?
Primarily, he's aiming to attract empty-nesters who are either downsizing or upscaling; and 28- to 35-year-old city dwellers looking for suburban niceties in an urban setting.
One tour through a Liberty Court townhouse makes it clear why almost half of the units have been sold. Although these are rowhomes, the design is so light-filled and open, there's never the feeling of being in a typical city residence.
And being able to grab a snack from the Sub-Zero refrigerator to enjoy in the private patio garden after taking a shower in the glass-enclosed separate stall and throwing on a robe from the oversized walk-in closet - well, let's just say that the purchase price makes more sense the more time you spend walking around not just the properties, but the neighborhood.
A Vibrant Neighborhood
There are few areas more vibrant and diverse than the ones surrounding Liberty Court.
Old City, Society Hill, South Street - no wonder Russell Labowitz talks excitedly about how "I'm like a little kid with the way I can't wait to walk around Philadelphia, and enjoy the history and the culture."
Put together everything that Liberty Court has to offer, and it definitely becomes easier to understand why people like Kline would leave an already comfortable home in Old City to move to Liberty Court.
"The first thing my husband, Norman, said to me was, 'Tell me again why we're doing this?' "But a brand-new space is very exciting. There is slightly more square footage than where we're living now, we've got a 10-year tax abatement, and we'll have an elevator!"