Jewish Federation shifts real estate strategy, looks to sell 4 properties totaling 100 acres
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Schwartz Campus in Bryn Mawr.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's recent $12 million sale of its eight-story, 121,500-square-foot office building at 2100 Arch St. symbolizes the first step of a larger strategy.
After compiling a wide-ranging real estate portfolio, the organization is weighing selling its properties and exiting the real estate business. The nonprofit is in the early stages of conversations with leaseholders to balance their long-term needs with the federation’s goal to shed properties.
The Jewish Federation owns 100 acres of property, consisting of more than 600,000 square feet of building space, spread across four campuses throughout the region. They mostly include Jewish schools and community centers in Bryn Mawr, Wynnewood, Elkins Park and Philadelphia.
Michael Markman, who’s on the federation’s board of directors, leads the real estate committee and is president of Dresher-based BET Investments, said the organization wants to work with tenants in a sensitive way while moving forward with its new strategy.
“Jewish Federation does not want to be in the real estate business,” Markman said. “It’s not necessarily what we should be doing. Maybe historically that’s what leadership has thought in the past, but it’s not what we feel we should be doing right now. Real estate is not our core mission.”
Founded in 1901, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is a community organization providing education, grants and funds for various projects including a food pantry and aid to Israel.
The Jewish Federation sold 2100 Arch St. to Philadelphia developer MM Partners for $12 million, most of which it’s putting into its endowment fund. That money helps the federation remain mission-focused, sustainable long term and show donors and partner organizations that it’ll follow sound business practices, Jewish Federation CEO Michael Balaban said.
An eight-story office building at 2100 Arch St. in Center City was recently sold to Philadelphia-based developer MM Partners, which is planning to convert the building into apartments.
“We never intended to be landlords,” Balaban said. “Rather, we’re a nonprofit focused on enriching lives and that’s really what’s at the core of our business.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s four campuses are: Schwartz Campus
272 S. Bryn Mawr Ave., Bryn Mawr
212,577 square feet of buildings
Includes Barrack Hebrew Academy
Mandell Education Campus
7601 Old York Road, Elkins Park
116,461 square feet of buildings
Includes Gratz College and Perelman Jewish Day School
City Avenue and Haverford Road, Wynnewood
130,000 square feet of buildings
Includes Perelman Jewish Day School and Kaiserman JCC
Jamison Avenue and Red Lion Road, Philadelphia
144,686 square feet
Includes Federation Early Learning Services daycare and Klein JCC
An example of how the Jewish Federation has used its space was in the basement at 2100 Arch St. The organization used the 250-seat auditorium twice a year. Otherwise it sat empty.
Last August, the nonprofit moved its operations into 23,037 square feet at Two Commerce Square at 20th and Market streets. A change for the rest of its real estate holdings could be coming next.
“If you look at a household over time, the needs of that household change. Sometimes they expand for kids, sometimes they contract,” Balaban said. “We’re looking at all those properties under the same communal mindset of the household. … [We’re] operating to best fulfill what’s in the interest of both communal real estate needs as well as revenue needs.” Balaban said tenants could potentially buy property from the Jewish Federation or new owners could come in. Balaban and Markman said they want to with tenants while following through with their new strategy.
It’s a strategy that Markman called a “total transformation” of the Jewish Federation. “We’re able to make sound business decisions and really represent our constituents in the best way and making business moves, which is not always easy for a nonprofit,” Markman said. “It’s something our board was behind and wholeheartedly supported.”