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PHILADELPHIA-Houston-based Winther Investment, a multifamily rental developer/owner that has gradually reached beyond Texas, is developing Dobson Mills Apartments in the East Falls neighborhood here. It will consist of eight four-story buildings containing an aggregate of 285 units on approximately 13 acres once occupied by the former Dobson textile mill.

Winther VP H. James Tollett III tells GlobeSt.com his company acquired the land from a partnership headed by the late Willard Rouse, founder of Malvern-based Liberty Property Trust, “who began converting several of the buildings on the land back in the 1980s, but never completed the development. By the time we acquired the land, the buildings were no longer usable,” he says.

Without disclosing the price Winther paid for the land, Tollett says, “$50 million is the projected value of the Dobson Mills development.” He describes the design as something like an “octopus” in which the eight buildings extend out in a park-like setting from a central parking structure not visible from the perimeter.

He expects to deliver the first units in spring 2006 and full completion to take from 30 to 36 months. Units are not yet being marketed, but he says the average rent will be about $1,800 a month. There is, he says, “an even mix of one- and two-bedroom units with a few three-bedroom and a couple of four-bedroom layouts. The average size is approximately 1,000 sf, and the range is from 750 sf to 2,300 sf.” Asked why Winther is going the rental route versus condos, which are proliferating here, he says, “because that’s what we do.”

Amy Thompson West, of Woburn, MA-based Tocci Group, which is construction manager of the project, adds, “cities need a mix of apartments and condos. While condos are attractive to developers, because they can recover their investment quickly, there’s demand for affordable options that attract young professionals and others who may not be ready or able to buy.”

Tollett sees a variety of potential renters, including “some empty nesters and professionals in the area’s medical and pharmaceutical industries that want to be close to Center City while also having a suburban feel and the ability to see some grass.” He cites the revitalization of the adjacent Manayunk neighborhood and sees a parallel between it what is now taking place in East Falls, particularly by locally based Sherman Properties on the other half of the Dobson mill site. In December 2004, Mark Sherman disposed of a multifamily portfolio his company had redeveloped in University City in order to concentrate on the East Falls revitalization effort.

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