Every changing neighborhood in Philadelphia seems to have one: a developer who dominates the scene.
In Northern Liberties, it’s Bart Blatstein. In Newbold, it’s John Longacre. In Point Breeze, it’s Ori Feibush. On South Broad Street, it’s Carl Dranoff. They amassed their real estate holdings when the neighborhoods were cheap, then became the masters of their destinies when the places emerged, Sleeping Beauty-like, from slumber.
Now, it’s Fishtown’s turn, and Roland Kassis is the reigning developer. Over 25 years, Kassis estimates, his company, Domani Developers, has collected a million square feet of property, mainly in old manufacturing buildings along Frankford Avenue, the neighborhood’s commercial spine. That’s almost as much space as the Comcast Tower holds.
Kassis, 44, who was born in Lebanon, raised in Liberia, and speaks French, exhibits the same manic energy and insatiable appetite for abandoned factories as the other neighborhood titans, but he has a sensibility more in tune with Fishtown’s arty, DIY, tattoo-and-vintage-loving culture. He not only nurtured a yoga studio on Frankford Avenue, he practices there and eschews meat. It’s hard to imagine many other Philadelphia developers chanting “Om.”