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Allan Domb, 'Condo King' And City Council Member, On Tax Plans And Term Limits

Allan Domb won a seat on Philadelphia City Council in 2015 and won re-election last year even though activists accused him of using his position on city council to benefit his brokerage, property management and investment firm, Allan Domb Real Estate.

Philadelphia City Council Member Alan Domb

Domb, dubbed the "Condo King" by the media, is not the only council member to maintain outside work, and he donates his six-figure city council salary to Philadelphia public schools. He said he wants to improve the lives of residents in his adopted hometown of more than 40 years. He works 90 hours per week fulfilling his council duties and running his business, insisting that he won't burn out since he loves what he does.

These days Domb has his sights set on the city's revised budget plan unveiled May 1 by Mayor Jim Kenney that calls for tax increases and spending cuts to make up for the revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic. According to Domb, the last thing Philadelphia should be doing during the worst health crisis in more than a century is to raise taxes.

"Maybe we need to look at what we spent in 2018 and 2019 and go back to some of those levels," he said. "Our expenses have increased in four years by 22% while the rate of inflation has increased by 5%. As a city, we are spending above our means, and we need to curtail that back a bit."

During his tenure on city council, Domb has raised questions about how the city does business, such as the decision to sell the Provident Mutual Life Insurance Co. building on 46th and Market Street at a steep loss.

The city spent a reported $50M renovating the property to convert it into the headquarters of the Philadelphia Police Department before scrapping the idea in 2017. Eventually, the department moved to the former Philadelphia Inquirer headquarters on North Broad Street. 

Council voted to sell the building to private developer Iron Stone Real Estate Partners for $10M, half of what Domb thought it was worth. He was one of two council members to vote against the sale. Council passed a bill introduced by Domb that requires an independent appraisal before the sale or purchase of any property by the city.

Domb also has called for term limits for members of city council. When he first introduced the idea last year, many of his colleagues opposed the plan. The idea is gaining momentum since Council President Darrell Clark introduced a term limits bill.  

Domb has many fans in the city's commercial real estate sector.

"Allan is without question the smartest person in the room, and that is every single room he happens to be in," said Ori Feibush, the president of Philadelphia developer OCF Realty. "I certainly wish his colleagues and the mayor's office would listen to him more. Without question, he has done an incredible job as a leader for our city and as a legislator." 

Parkway Corp. CEO Robert Zuritsky echoed Feibush's views. In an email to Bisnow, he called Domb "one of the smartest and innovative people in Philadelphia. Having his insights can only help [City] Council, businesses and the city during these difficult times."

The support he enjoys in the business community has led to speculation in the media about whether Domb will run for mayor when Kenney's term expires in 2024.

He was noncommittal on the topic when asked by Bisnow, saying he will wait and see what opportunities present themselves. 

His political career isn't without controversy.

Domb came under fire from activists during last year's debate over the city's controversial 10-year tax abatement. A report issued by the 215 People's Alliance found that luxury condo buildings where Allan Domb Real Estate rents and sells units received $12.3M in reductions in 2018. Properties personally owned by Domb, who is one of the city's biggest landlords, received tax breaks of at least $541K between 2008 and 2019. The report said condo properties handled by Domb accounted for 10% of the abatements removed from school district tax rolls.

Domb said the tax abatements hurt him more than they helped him. He also argues that the 215 People's Alliance report is not accurate.

"It referenced buildings where Allan had nothing to do with the transactions. It combined sales where the abatements went to the buyer, not Allan. As far as the actual abatements referenced over the 11-year period, it represents less than two percent of the total real estate taxes he paid," a spokesperson for Domb said.

The nonprofit didn't respond to requests for comment.

"For me personally, the tax abatement is a nightmare," he said. "All the tax abatement does is bring more inventory into the market, which lowers the value of my existing properties. Many properties have the same rents today that they had 11 years ago because of the volume of new product coming into the market."

Developers and Domb have long argued that the tax reduction pays off for the city over the long run. Domb and his colleagues unanimously voted to scale back the tax break, with Domb saying it was a compromise he needed to make.

"Politics as always is going to rule the day, unfortunately," said Feibush, who waged an unsuccessful campaign to join city council.

According to Feibush, changing the tax break will discourage developers from building affordable housing the city needs.

CORRECTION, JUNE 2, 9:25 A.M. ET: An earlier version of this story spelled Allan Domb's name incorrectly in the headline. It has been corrected.

UPDATE, JUNE 2, 11:11 A.M. ET: The story has been updated to indicate that Allan Domb disputes the findings in the 215 People's Alliance report.