Legacy Builder
O’Neill Properties builds upon an already strong foundation put in place by its founder, J. Brian O’Neill
by Leigh Stuart

Everything has to start somewhere. Ask J. Brian O’Neill, and he traces his roots in business to 1977, with one man and a paint truck rehabbing a home in Philadelphia’s Manayunk neighborhood. His modest venture has since grown into a multibillion-dollar real estate empire employing thousands of people and completing thousands of projects along the East Coast.

How did this happen? O’Neill boils his “secret” down to its basest elements, suggesting his empire arose out of an unflinching commitment to not only being the best but also offering the best.

“We’re looking for the best locations and the best neighborhoods where we can build the most luxurious products for a sophisticated clientele,” says O’Neill, owner of O’Neill Properties, whose signature properties include the Royal Worthington and Highgrove Estates, both in Malvern. “We want to offer the highest-quality product in the marketplace.”

O’Neill is the first to admit that a business does not forge the iron-clad reputation O’Neill Properties has without its share of struggles. When the Great Recession reached rock bottom in 2008, O’Neill’s company felt the pinch. The company had to downsize and endured a few financial setbacks, as many businesses did at the time, but the dedication and ingenuity of a group of steadfast employees spurred the company forward.

“It was extremely difficult,” O’Neill recalls. “It was a recession that was worse than the [Great] Depression, but we divided the day in half: 50 percent of the day we spent solving problems; 50 percent we spent developing and doing new things that would help us grow out of recession. We focused on improving the business every day, so we got better every day.”

In addition to a laser focus on exceeding customers’ expectations, O’Neill notes, “We could not have survived without the gracious manner in which our investors and bankers dealt with us. We are grateful for their cooperation with us … and we are very grateful for their patience.”

O’Neill Properties has continued to build upon its reputation for top-quality living and working spaces. Whether it’s with commercial properties, custom homes within custom neighborhoods or vibrant office buildings in rehabbed industrial areas, O’Neill says, “We look for opportunities to provide [the highest] level of product in the neighborhoods people want to be in. They’re all very much built and conceived with the customer in mind, giving the customer credit for having sophisticated taste.”

O’Neill cites the Main Line as a prime example where he has succeeded whereas others might have missed the proverbial boat. “The reality is, [Main Line residents] are very well traveled,” he says. “They shop in New York, they travel in Europe, they summer and winter all over the world; they appreciate fine wine, fine art and that same quality in homes.

“We believe that our colleagues in the industry have been too conservative in the quality and level of detail they’re offering,” he continues. “We think the Main Line customer craves that quality and level of detail like a New York, D.C., or Boston customer.”

It is with such sophistication in mind that O’Neill Properties has launched into a host of development projects, both in the area and out of state.

There is Highgrove Estates, a private 17-estate enclave on 70 acres in Malvern, with each estate-style property being modeled after the country home of the Prince of Wales, in Gloucestershire, England. Placed in perpetual conservation and preservation by the Open Land Conservancy of Chester County, the property surrounding Highgrove Estates will forever retain its stunning views and tranquility, as two-thirds of the property is to be preserved as wild nature areas.

In line with O’Neill’s desire to bring the utmost in living to the Main Line is one of the company’s newest projects—the Royal Athena, a $130 million, 275-unit development in Bala Cynwyd, slated for completion in 2016.

The Athena is a complex in and of itself, offering residents a private screening room, private dining, state-of-the-art fitness and yoga studios, as well as top-tier services such as dry cleaning pick-up and delivery. Concierge service only adds to the benefit of a prime riverfront location, and the riverfront pool with fire pits and outdoor cabana spaces set the property over the top.

The Royal Athena also provides unparalleled accessibility for those who crave the hustle and bustle of city life. In addition to being linked directly to Philadelphia by way of the Schuylkill River Trail, the property is just a few blocks from numerous public transportation options and is connects to Manayunk via the old Pencoyd Trail and Bridge, which O’Neill properties invested millions to renovate just to offer residents one more amenity.

The Royal Athena’s “sibling” property, the 753-unit Royal Worthington, will also be growing in its offerings of amenities and living space. This second phase of the Royal Worthington in Malvern, dubbed the Uptown Worthington, will house a movie theater, a Target, a Wegmans and more, along with 340 living spaces in the 1.9 million-square-foot urban village for “live, work and play.”

Also, a set of more than 320 riverside townhouses called Bridgeview is set to bloom in Bridgeport, which O’Neill describes as “a great little walking community.” In Norristown, Lubin Studios, formerly the site of five office buildings totaling 52,129 square feet, is being renovated into nearly 50 apartment units to be part of what’s being called a neotraditional neighborhood within the 63-acre Riverview Corporate Campus at Valley Forge.

Farther afield is a project set to turn the Manhattan market on its ear. A complex of hundreds of ocean-view apartments will soon be coming to the New Jersey side of New York City, offering residents luxury living at less than the exorbitant price per square foot the average Manhattanite is used to paying. All of these seaside residences will overlook Brooklyn/Staten Island. The property also offers easy access to trains and ferries that can take tenants right onto the island.

Of note, a portion of each of the O’Neill residential properties functions as boutique hotel space on par with competitors such as Ritz-Carlton. Yet, O’Neill asserts, “for the price of a room [at a competitor], we give you an entire suite,” noting this includes a kitchen, outdoor balcony, living room and a bedroom “the size of an entire hotel room.”

O’Neill cites a “relentless pursuit of excellence” as among the top reasons his company has seen success. He says, “Customers can expect exceptional service on an uncompromised level, every day, and they can expect exceptional quality in everything we do.

“My personal philosophy is, ‘Always be the very best at what you do,’” he continues. “Every day we have to be better than we were the day before, because the competition is not sleeping.”

For more information on O’Neill Properties Group properties throughout the area and along the East Coast, visit www.oneillproperties.com or call 610-239-6100.

Photograph by Jody Robinson