The legacy of one of Philadelphia's most prominent and controversial developers will ultimately be determined by what happens in Northern Liberties.
The next day he did what he calls "the unthinkable."
He called McDonald.
"This is Bart."
"Tim--I hate your guts."
"I'm sorry, Bart."
"Tim--I hate your guts because you make me think."
McDonald came to Blatstein's office and met with him, and the unthinkable happened again. Blatstein opened up. "I know what I like," he told McDonald. "But I don't know if it's any good."
The way McDonald remembers it, Blatstein suddenly seemed humble and human. "I liked him," says McDonald. "He's the sort of guy you love to hate and love to love. And I was impressed, because this rich, powerful man had humbled himself enough to ask for help."
McDonald suggested he meet with two young, aggressive architects--Scott Erdy and David McHenry--but Blatstein was still stubborn. "Well," he said, "I'm supposed to be on vacation tomorrow, and I'm not changing my plans. If they want to meet me, they can drive to the shore. I'll be in Margate."
And so they did. Blatstein wore a T-shirt and shorts and ordered subs from Dino's. Erdy and McHenry dressed in suits and ties. The temperature must have been 85, but Blatstein didn't invite them inside. Instead, they sat on the deck while the Thunderbird air show team performed stunts and maneuvers over their heads. Blatstein was distracted and enjoying it, staring up at the airplanes as the architects talked.
By the time that meeting ended, he was pretty much sold on retooling his plans for Northern Liberties yet again. "I liked what they showed me," he says. "I got religion."
"What Bart needs now," says Erdy, "is for the good work he's done here to be reinforced by the media and the marketplace. This was something new for him, and the good response he's received so far is only leading him to explore these avenues further, trying on more sophisticated designs with more expansive approaches to creating communities. If it works, he'll do more of it. But he will need that positive reinforcement."
The Word Made Stucco
It's a rainy day in late September, and Blatstein's assistant Tina Roberts starts the tour of NoLibs sites. Her boss is running late.
The offices of Tower Investments, Blatstein's 12-person company, are located at 969 N. Second St. in an old industrial building bordering the Schmidt's site. The two big glass doors fronting the building give way to a large entryway and a small set of stairs.
Blatstein's scooter sits just to the right of the stairs beneath a riser that holds a sculpture of a motorcycle. The twinning effect is immediately striking, but the overall impact of the hollowed out industrial building is that of a great, heaving attempt--self-conscious but mostly successful--at cool.