2018 Business of the Year
Developer’s Perspective Benefits the Whole Community
By Leigh Green
The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce proudly designates E. Kahn Development as the Business of the Year for 2018. The commercial real estate company, led by founder Eli Kahn, has had a tremendous impact on the face and future of downtown West Chester and the surrounding region. Kahn’s commitment to Chester County’s social and economic prosperity has had long-lasting and wide-reaching impact that will benefit the community for decades to come.
Kahn first set foot in Chester County in 1982. As a college student at West Chester University, he tended bar at local haunts The Marshalton Inn, Jitters, and Vincent’s. In his free time, he’d explore the Brandywine Valley countryside on his bicycle. “I loved West Chester,” he says. “I loved the town, loved the school.”
Kahn followed advice from his father, who encouraged him to follow his passion. He purchased a handful of small student-occupied rooming houses and duplexes while in school and set to work after graduation for Hanson Properties and Anstey & Associates in turn.
In 1990, Kahn teamed up with developer Jack Loew, and the two forged an exceptionally successful partnership and indelible relationship. “Jack Loew was an enormous influence on my life,” says Kahn. “He taught me finance, he taught me construction, he taught me how to handle difficult situations without losing my cool. He was such an honorable man and incredible person and was really my business mentor.”
E. Kahn Development is most often in the spotlight for high-profile projects such as Devon Yard, a mixed retail village on the Main Line, the Chestnut Square apartments in West Chester, the 121 N. Walnut West Chester office building, and, of course, the Mosteller Building project on Gay Street in West Chester, over a decade in the making, which Kahn deems “44 West.”
The original 44 West project was an eight-story, 120,000 square-foot luxury condominium complex, planned by Kahn and Loew. Soon after its 2013 approval, Loew fell ill, passing away less than a year later. When Kahn eventually revisited the project, it was with a new perspective. “I wanted to do something that would honor Jack. He was a humble and understated guy.” Rather than naming just another building after him, Kahn wanted to develop something innovative, something that would benefit the whole community. Gazing at the old Mosteller building one afternoon, it occurred to him, “Oh my word, we could just leave this corner open as a plaza,” he recalls thinking. “If you spend any time in any great city, living or working near a plaza is one of the highlights, and that’s the one thing Gay Street didn’t have – a place that people can gather and have coffee and ice cream and meet. Something that 100, 200 years from now, would still be the place to gather. We would name this plaza after Jack and people would forever associate this beautiful space with my friend and partner Jack Loew.”
Kahn pared his original plan down to a four-story, 45,000 square-foot development. He expected the project’s modest scale and community-oriented focus to pass Borough Council with flying colors, but it was denied.
“I learned a long time ago not to get emotional about real estate,” he says. “But I couldn’t help it. I was emotional about it.” He persisted, with the support of the Chamber, its Business Advocacy Committee, and countless community members, but to no avail. Kahn boarded up the property and moved on. “Believe me, I was completely embarrassed by the building and the condition it sat in,” he says, “but I wasn’t going to do something that didn’t make sense.”
The plan was revived in 2017 when Borough Council reached out to resume discussions with Kahn. Now slated for 2019 completion, 44 West will bring a carefully selected restaurant or two, retail, offices, public art and a communal plaza to the historic downtown of West Chester.
But while E. Kahn Development might be known for high-impact real estate, Kahn is proud of lower-profile development, including Mitch’s Gym (formerly a laundromat) and an upcoming project that will replace the former Rubinstein’s Office Supply building with small-scale apartments for seniors and younger residents.
In the years to come, Kahn and his wife Jeanne plan to work with the county and other private organizations to tackle issues of affordable housing. “Chester County is one of the wealthiest places in the country,” he says. “We must do better to provide respectable housing for those working to get back on their feet.”
When told his company was selected as Business of the Year, Kahn demurred, “I’ve flown under the radar screen as much as I can,” he says. “But it’s an honor, and I’m very flattered. I love what I do, I love the people I work with. My company is made up of a lot of really great people, and I work with a lot of really great subcontractors. I’m just one part of this.”
Looking ahead, Kahn sees limitless possibility for West Chester. “It’s an unbelievable place,” he says, “and, by the way, it’s not done.” He feels the Chamber has done a remarkable job of identifying and promoting the needs of the dynamic community as it steadily evolves.
And for their part, E. Kahn Development will stay the course. “We’re going to continue doing what we do, one project at a time, in our little corner of the real estate world.”
Join us at the GWCC Annual Banquet to celebrate E. Kahn Development. Purchase tickets at GreaterWestChester.com/annual-banquet.