During the early days of 500 Walnut, Philadelphians thought the building was so nice it could attract Beyonce and Jay-Z. A local real estate agent reported on his blog two years ago that America’s power couple would be purchasing the penthouse of this property overlooking Independence Hall, and for about a day the internet went bananas.
“I woke up one morning to see the internet abuzz and was all of a sudden getting phone calls from friends in Europe,” said Tom Scannapieco, 500 Walnut’s developer. “I must’ve gotten 30 calls.”
Of course, it was revealed quickly they weren’t interested in buying. Scannapieco said his company never once spoke with the couple. But the lack of Jay-Z and Beyonce doesn’t mean 500 Walnut isn’t special.
It is a residence building unlike anything Philadelphia has ever seen, the likes of which are only duplicated in New York, Miami or the handful of other cities that generally command attention from international buyers. The building is set to open this year, and Scannapieco said at the topping off ceremony Thursday afternoon it could “contribute to stretching how Philadelphians see themselves and where this city is going.”
So, what’s so special about it? Well for one thing, the condos really are meant for people making Jay-Z and Beyonce money. The penthouse sold for $17.8 million, the highest price tag on a residential property in Philadelphia’s history. Of the 34 other residences, the lowest-priced will go for $3 million. Most go for between $6.4 million and $9 million. All told, 500 Walnut will have the highest prices per square foot ever in Philly.
Some of Philadelphia’s rich and famous wouldn’t be used to spending what’s required to live there. When Chase Utley and his wife lived in Philly, they spent their time on the top level of Ayer in a property worth about $4 million. That would get them one of the lower, smaller condos at 500 Walnut. As of last fall, Joel Embiid was living in Two Liberty Place, paying rent for a condo that would sell for about $2.1 million. That price wouldn’t even get him in 500 Walnut’s basement.
The penthouse covers two stories and 8,900 square feet and comes with multiple fire places and balconies. In New York City, Scannapieco estimates it would go for $80-$100 million, the price of most ultra-luxury penthouses there.
“This would be one of them,” he said. “Those penthouses, they don’t really have anything on this penthouse.”
The other condos range in size between 2,700 and 4,300 square feet. The building features a sky-lit lap pool, a parking garage with automatic car retrieval in 90 seconds or less, an entertainment center with a catering lounge, fitness center with sauna and yoga rooms, a 4,000-square-foot rooftop terrace overlooking Independence Hall and the use of a Tesla town car with driver.
Fifteen to 20 years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine something like 500 Walnut in Philadelphia. Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District, said when a property went for $1 million or $2 million it was “a remarkable threshold.”
The closest any building comes to equaling 500 Walnut is 1706 Rittenhouse, another Scannapieco Development Corporation production and at one point home to Cliff Lee. Its penthouse sold for a then-record $12.5 million in 2010. When Scannapieco began working on that project in the early 2000s, his research showed that only six condo units
He decided Philadelphia was ready for ultra-luxury buildings after a project in New Hope called Riverview. Then the success of 1706 Rittenhouse, as well as renovations by developers to make other penthouses around the city more luxurious, spurred him to think Philadelphia was ready for an even more lavish property.
At 500 Walnut, about two-thirds of the 35 condos have been sold. In New York, ultra-luxurious properties like these tend to be filled with foreign buyers. As Will Rich, senior vice president of Delta Associates, said, “they may not even live in the building or visit once.”
Philadelphia doesn’t yet command attention from buyers in foreign countries — or New York, for that matter. Scannapieco said about two-thirds of the soon-to-be residents of 500 Walnut are ultra-wealthy suburbanites who have decided to move into Center City. The other third are Philadelphians changing residences.
“Years ahead, after it’s well accepted and proven that Philadelphians want to live in Center City,” Scannapieco said, “I think there is a possibility we can attract people from outside the region, like New York City and foreign [countries].”
Mayor Jim Kenney argues these current buyers, the suburban transplants and locals, are important for the city, in terms of increasing economic diversity and benefitting Philadelphia as a whole. He attended the topping off ceremony and discussed how much tax money residents could bring in, noting the transfer tax on the penthouse alone would be $528,000.
“After 10 years, God knows what kind of real estate tax we’ll be getting,” Kenney said. “It’s going to be a phenomenal number.”
“We have a lot of poor people in the city,” he continued. “We need a lot of wealthy people in the city to get us where we need to be while we’re fixing the institutions that led to poverty in the first place.”