One of the most significant transformations in Philadelphia’s urban landscape in the last 10 years was the creation of The Piazza in Northern Liberties, a residential and retail environment developed by Tower Investments’ Bart Blatstein.
Blatstein based his initial design on southern Europe’s mixed-use plazas, where apartments sit above outdoor cafes and stores, and locals gather to take in music and performance.
The Piazza at Schmidt’s was praised as a communal game-changer for the neighborhood when Blatstein opened it in 2009, but in the ensuing years it had a mixed record in terms of attracting tenants and neighborhood-friendly events.
In 2013, Blatstein was ready for new challenges and sold the development to Kushner Companies, the New York-based real estate firm whose CEO was, until recently, Jared Kushner.
Because he’s been appointed to a post in his father-in-law’s White House, Jared Kushner has stepped down from his role in Kushner Companies — a role that, until now, included oversight as the controlling owner of the Piazza and Liberties Walk across the street.
“When I decided to transition the Piazza in Northern Liberties four years ago,” said Blatstein, “there were two serious buyers: There was a buyer from down South and then there was Kushner. The pricing was similar. I chose Kushner because Jared had his finger on the pulse and a real passion for what he does.”
That passion led to a number of changes for the area, some of which were more successful than others.
For instance, Kushner encouraged the popular Brooklyn Flea market to make Philadelphia’s 80,000-square-foot Piazza one of its outposts — an exciting idea that unfortunately tanked in just a few months.
He was also at the helm when one of the Piazza’s most popular bars, PYT, decided to close.
“They have taken a while to get their Philadelphia sea legs, but in the last year or two have started to reactivate Liberties Walk and the Piazza with events that draw people but don’t create a nuisance,” said Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighborhood Association, who also noted that, per an agreement with the neighbors, Kushner built a promised 300-plus-space parking garage. “New York management might still need to learn a little more about how Philly is not New York City, but the local folks on the ground are very responsive and doing a good job.”
Last summer Kushner Companies launched a rebrand, naming the area The Schmidt’s Commons.
“I’m not generally too interested in branding issues,” Ruben said, “but The Schmidt’s Commons rebranding was a good move on their part.”
Both Ruben and Blatstein praised Kushner for bringing a co-working company to the Piazza.
“Jared has a lot of relationships in tech,” said Blatstein of Kushner, whose brother is in the tech industry. “He was able to bring WeWork into one of the buildings, and that’s a great addition to the project. He’s got a great eye for design and he gets it.”
“This area has seen a resurgence with residential occupancy nearly at full capacity and an exciting mix of restaurants and retail along Liberties Walk,” said Schmidt’s Commons Community Manager Sean Gavin last year when the company announced WeWork’s arrival. “Today’s opening of WeWork, along with the upcoming opening of a beer hall from the owners of Landmark Americana, really highlight that The Schmidt’s Commons has become a destination for people to live, work and relax.”
That beer hall, Urban Village Brewing Company, is under construction and slated to open in March. A Korean bakery and street food purveyor, Token, opened last fall.
Kushner scrapped the rowdy summer concert series sponsored by 104.5, and recently hired the Piazza’s first full-time events coordinator, whose events-related outreach will ramp up again in the spring.
According to a company spokesperson, Kushner’s departure from the real estate business is unlikely to change much in Philadelphia; the management of The Schmidt’s Commons is all local.
That’s just as well, said Blatstein, who knows Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, and called them “very caring people.”
“I’d rather his influence be in D.C. in helping fix the mess in the Middle East,” Blatstein said, referring to President Trump’s plans for Kushner to act as peace negotiator. “That’s way more important than anything in Philadelphia.”
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