Three years ago, Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts paid $8.5 million for a condo in Manhattan’s most exclusive high rise -- 15 Central Park West.

He was just warming up.

Last year, Roberts bought a 6,900-square-foot high-rise penthouse in Philadelphia -- 100 miles away from the epicenter of conspicuous consumption in New York. His purchase of the 32nd-floor condo at 10 Rittenhouse Square, a tower with a Mercedes Benz car and driver, pool and a wine storage room, is a signal of Philadelphia’s emergence as a beacon of luxury living.

The 33-story red-brick tower, completed in 2009, brings a dollop of Manhattan-style luxury to a city whose most famous resident, Ben Franklin, espoused frugality. Robert A.M Stern, the architect behind 15 Central Park West and the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, also designed 10 Rittenhouse Square -- one of about eight luxury residential towers in the area.

Stuart Weitzman, Swarovski and Ulta boutiques recently have sprung up near Rittenhouse Square in Center City, part of a transformation of the area that’s increasingly catering to wealthy executives and celebrities. Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee bought a $4.85 million condo at 1706 Rittenhouse, a 31-story tower near Roberts’s building that was finished in 2010.

Tower Defaults

“It’s a premiere luxury shopping district,” said Michael Barmash, senior vice president at Colliers International in Philadelphia, who handles sales and leasing of retail space. “It wasn’t like that years ago. It changed totally because of all the residential” units that have been constructed in Center City.

The rise of 10 Rittenhouse Square began with a default. In 2010, the owner of the building was foreclosed on by junior lenders from a regional pension fund. The new owners then defaulted on a $240 million senior mortgage that came due that September, and attempted to place the entity into bankruptcy to delay a foreclosure by senior lender iStar Financial Inc. A judge invalidated the bankruptcy in June 2011, allowing iStar to appoint Dranoff Properties, a luxury developer, as the receiver and eventually take title to the property.

IStar, which invested several million dollars more to complete the building, decided to market the units solely to luxury buyers, said Cynthia Tucker, senior vice president at iStar’s asset management division.

Premier Building

“We made a conscious decision to position the building as the premier building in Philly,” Tucker said. “The fact that it was analogous to 15 Central Park West was not lost on us.”

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