John Longacre takes risks. Calculated risks, that is.
Longacre has led high-stake real estate overhauls in previously forgotten areas of the city, strategically choosing where and how he’ll do it. He also ran for city council. And when asked, he said he would do it all again.
The Temple alumnus has made a name for himself and his company, Longacre Property Management Group, by rebuilding downtrodden neighborhoods from the ground up through new businesses and real estate opportunities. He’s known primarily for the risks he took in South Philly’s Point Breeze neighborhood that paid off – the area is now sought after for its award-winning businesses.
There’s a science to the process of choosing which risks are worth it though, Longacre said.
“We never would have been able to make these areas work [otherwise],” Longacre said. “It’s my Fox [School of Business] degree at work. That’s the reality of it.”
Longacre was due to graduate in 1996 but went back to complete his degree later.
The Holland, Pa., native transferred to Temple from the University of Maryland in the mid-1990s. Longacre said he immediately saw a difference between Temple’s student population and the one of his previous school.
“When I got to Temple, I was shocked, because it wasn’t what I thought it was, and all the kids at Temple have an edge to them,” Longacre said. “They were all aggressive. It’s like they were all on a mission.”
Like his classmates at Temple, Longacre found himself on a mission of his own – to revamp forgotten areas of the city.
Longacre landed an internship during college in Ed Rendell’s administration, which gave him exposure to large economic development projects, like the Navy Ship Yard. Seeing that led him to question why similar projects couldn’t happen in areas like Point Breeze, he said.
“How could an area like Point Breeze have pockets that look like a third-world country yet be a nine-minute walk from Rittenhouse Square, which has the city’s most expensive real estate?” Longacre asked.
“This particular section of Point Breeze [before we re-branded it ‘Newbold’], suffered from extreme disinvestment,” Longacre said. “The area was riddled with crime, trash and dilapidated buildings. This was not an area that was viewed as a desirable location for many people to open a business.”
Longacre decided to carve out a section of the area to create a new neighborhood and further distinguish the change – and it stuck. Philadelphia Brewing Company even named a beer, Newbold IPA, after it.
The distinguishing factor of Newbold is a vital part of any successful neighborhood and something that the old Point Breeze neighborhood lacked.
“What I felt this neighborhood really lacked was a civic component,” Longacre said.
By creating sustainable businesses to attract outsiders to the area, Longacre filled this gap. His biggest success is undoubtedly the South Philly Tap Room. An American gastro pub, the restaurant attracts patrons not only from all over the city, but also from New Jersey and beyond.
TV personality Guy Fieri stopped by the South Philly Taproom in February for an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” The episode has yet to be aired but is expected to bring an incredible amount of traffic to the neighborhood. Fieri told Longacre that within four months of him being there, the Taproom will have had at least one group from every state in the country, Longacre said.
The South Philly Tap Room is located at 1509 Mifflin St. It offers a wide selection of draft beer and modernized pub food.
Near The South Philly Tap Room, Brew/Ultimo Coffee is another addition to Newbold. The coffee shop boasts coffee from multiple countries, and each cup is brewed individually. The Daily Meal named Ultimo the No. 1 Coffee Shop in the U.S. on April 4. Its Newbold location also offers access to Longacre’s Brew, a take-out bottle beer boutique.
In both the South Philly Tap Room and Brew/Ultimo, Longacre greets employees by name and jumps into conversation almost immediately after crossing the threshold. His office is located around the corner from both locations, allowing him to keep close contact with his businesses. The extra care seems to be working – the South Philly Taproom was named one of the “Best of Philly” beer bars by Philadelphia magazine.
“You can’t get that recognition for a neighborhood without a business that’s doing something right,” Longacre said.
Multiple employees of the taproom have been there for more than five years.
“The average [employee] turnover in this business is one year,” Longacre said. “Our average turnover is like, six years.”
A successful, hip gastro pub and upscale coffee and beer shop is a far cry from what Newbold used to be.
Longacre said the process of cleaning the area up to prepare for these new businesses was a challenge.
“We had a car on the sidewalk whose tires had exploded,” Longacre said. “It was there for four months before we could get rid of it. We’d call every day.”
The neglect toward the neighborhood was a sign that it needed to change. For Longacre, the need for change seems to be a common driver in his life. He ran for City Council in 2007 for the 5th District, under which Main Campus falls, because he felt improvements had to be made.
“[It was] what I perceived to be a lack of initiative,” Longacre said. “When you call your councilperson’s office and can’t get a call back, there’s something wrong there.”
Longacre lost to Council President Darrell Clarke. Despite his defeat, he said he would definitely run again if he saw the need.
“I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to run just to run,” Longacre said. “I’m not going to run just to put it on my résumé. I want to run for an area that needs better representation.”
Longacre’s latest venture is an 18-family LEED certified apartment complex at 16th and Moore streets called reNewbold. The site for the project was previously inhabited by a school that sat vacant for 50 years. The sleek, modern plan for the complex, reminiscent of the Edge, is a sharp contrast to the brick row homes that define the surrounding streets. However, Longacre said that’s exactly what he was going for.
“We’re going to do something so that when people drive through this neighborhood, they’re going say, ‘Holy
s—, something’s going on down here,’” he said.
With real estate and restaurants under his belt, Longacre doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon – he mentioned music venues as a market he’d like to explore.
His work ethic may seem crazy, but the elbow grease is worth it, he said.
“Every day I wake up to controlled chaos,” Longacre said. “But when I have time to sit back and reflect on it, I don’t think I’d want it any other way. I truly do enjoy it. I really do get personal satisfaction to see these neighborhoods build themselves back to what they once were.”
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.