In 2007, Alon founded his property development company, Urban Conversation, focused on residential redevelopment projects in Philadelphia. His ambition was to establish a sustainable market niche that would differentiate his company from the small-scale renovators focused on simple projects, and the institutional property developers working on highly complex projects.
After successfully completing several projects during the first few years of the company, Alon began to notice a set of opportunities being missed by other developers in the market. Historical buildings such as mills, factories and decommissioned churches were being demolished because they were considered too complicated to redevelop. These buildings had lost their original purpose but represented the historical fabric of the communities they were located within.
Alon set out to pursue a new vision: to save historic buildings. Rather than allow these buildings to be destroyed, he set out to apply his deep creativity to redevelop them into 30-50 unit apartment buildings with unique character and modern conveniences, while maintaining the heritage value of the buildings.
Alon’s creativity is at the center of his ability to execute upon his vision. In the words of his nominator, “Alon is a renaissance man. He sees opportunity where others just pass by. His creative vision puts him in another league. There is no way the other developers can do what he’s doing. He has incredible creativity that makes the projects work”. Alon draws from his diverse experience as a trained designer/developer, professional musician, helicopter pilot and movie producer to influence the design of his buildings.
For example, rather than remove stain glass windows, Alon’s solution was to convert them into internal shutters to allow residents to have translucent windows. Alon converted an extremely steep landscape into a garden with a sky bridge that joined the residential buildings on either side. In another example, Alon used a tropical fish tank to act as a ‘instead of a regular railing to meet building code obligations. And rather than close-in the open space at the center of a 200-year old church, he converted it into a concert hall for music, theater and private movie screenings for the resident community.
Alon’s creativity has extended to marketing his buildings, an essential component of ensuring the developments are commercially successful. To draw attention to the unique character of a church redevelopment, he hung a Rapunzel wig out of his 9-story clock tower which created a social media cult following for the building. He personally shoots go-pro footage from a helicopter to give customers and investors a ‘fly-by’ view of his developments. He also worked with the City of Philadelphia and a local nonprofit that paints public murals to create a $50,000 art installation memorializing a small neighborhoods contribution to industrial history near his project to save the country’s oldest yarn mill.
Through his commitment to ‘saving historic buildings’, Alon that has demonstrated exemplary vision and creativity that has catalyzed action around him to create property developments which are commercially attractive and while achieving his goal of saving the historical heritage of the communities he operates in.