What’s happened since Ori Feibush’s Point Breeze block went up in flames

No suspects yet despite $102K in reward money, and new homes there are selling for tens of thousands more.

Ori Feibush arson
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Correction appended

Where four Ori Feibush-developed homes went down because of a two-alarm arson, 11 more are about to rise in Point Breeze.

The developer said in an interview last week construction had recently begun on a row of 11 homes adjacent to the property at 20th and Wharton where the fire occurred. In May, four homes were mostly destroyed, with three others damaged. Feibush said those three damaged homes have since been settled.

Here’s a picture showing the progress made on the scorched block between May and now:

Ori houses
Mark Dent/Billy Penn

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is still trying to figure out who set the fire. A spokesperson for the agency said the investigation is ongoing, and the ATF is still awaiting forensic results. Aside from a video showing a person of interest, the ATF has not released any information about the investigation (it asks anyone with info to email ATFTips@atf.gov; $102,500 in reward money is being dangled).

Feibush said he knows little about the investigation or any possible suspects.

“I think everyone across the board from every walk of life was upset this happened,” he said. “Politics aside, nobody wants to see a fire in their community.”

Like many gentrifying areas of Philadelphia, there’s a mixture of old and new in this area at 20th and Wharton, bodegas and barre studios. Yet even blocks away from Point Breeze’s trendy coffee shops and restaurants, Feibush’s plot featuring a half-block’s worth of new construction homes stands out.

Before the fire, neighbors talked of being bothered by the noise of the construction crews from Feibush’s big project, not to mention the parking spots they were taking up. A sign went up in the spring calling gentrification “modern day colonialism,” targeting OCF Realty and warning that Feibush would “bury you.”

And then the fire happened. About 75 firefighters fought the blaze, containing the fire that led neighbors to move their children down the street out of fear it would spread.

Feibush said the rebuilding process has been relatively smooth and noted the most expensive part for his company was actually replacing the foundations on three of the affected homes after L&I further damaged them during required excavation work. The new construction homes cost between $550,000 and $625,000.

Since the arson, nothing has come up in Point Breeze akin to the gentrification signs targeting Feibush. But he doesn’t expect the arson to be any kind of turning point in the neighborhood.

“The parties that set this fire were not the same parties that had been the vocal advocates against development,” he said. “It’s a bunch of fringe outliers that were most certainly not from Point Breeze. I don’t think the fire has moved anything one way or the other.”

And if gentrification and rising home prices and property taxes motivated the arson, the criminals who set the fire won’t get to see it happen anytime soon.

“It’s had a very immediate impact on housing prices in the neighborhood, making them more expensive. Not less,” Feibush said. “The lack of supply this fire created ensured these homes are selling for $50 or $60K more since then.”

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