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Israel bound

From the motor city to the Holy Land

Philip Kafka meets with his team in Detroit. (Chris Miele)

Real estate developer Philip Kafka’s bold but unconventional vision of redefining urban spaces has earned him commercial, critical, and professional success with high profile and acclaimed projects in Detroit. But now Kafka, founder of the real estate company Prince Concepts, wants to expand his cultural and spiritual horizons – in Israel. “I have just applied for my Israeli citizenship,” Kafka said in a recent interview with Amy Spiro of Jewish Insider. “I want to spend more time in Israel and this is the time for that.”

Background: The 34-year-old native of Texas is very familiar with new adventures. Kafka was born in Dallas to a Brooklyn father and Lone Star State mother. He studied philosophy at Northwestern University and pursued a brief professional tennis career. He started his own poster business in New York and sold it five years later to focus on Detroit. Kafka credits his parents for giving him an entrepreneurial spirit. “They gave me confidence and made me feel fearless, so to speak,” he said. “All I needed to know was that I learned from my parents. And they have always been great role models for me. “

Build up: Starting with a restaurant that opened in 2016, Kafka has grown its presence in Detroit immensely over the past five years, implementing more than a dozen projects, mostly centered around the Core City neighborhood. “It was basically what anyone in real estate would tell you not to do,” he said. “There was nothing around me, there was no market… there just weren’t any people. I bought this completely empty area, bought three old industrial buildings and got four acres of land, ”he said. And a few years later he said: “I have 20 acres here, I have renovated all these old industrial buildings. I have restaurants, cafes, all startups are moving into my buildings here. I built a great housing project that has won a lot of awards. “

Hut life: Kafka was never afraid to think outside the box – or in this case about the house. One of his earliest and most famous projects in Detroit is True North, a residential neighborhood made entirely of Quonset huts: eye-catching semi-cylindrical corrugated steel structures based on an ancient military design. “I knew they were quick and cheap to build,” he said, “but I also knew that we could build them tall and wide, with no pillars in the middle, and create a space of great quality.” The pre-fabricated structure, he said, meant he could “create a high quality apartment at a low cost” and “museum-quality spaces for living.”

Aliyah bound: But as Kafka’s professional success grew, he looked for more meaning. In Detroit he said, “I’m not surrounded by a crowd of Jewish people. And when I get older and – thank God – have more success and achieve more fulfillment in my professional life, I realize how limited that is, ”added Kafka. “I want to get closer to the spiritual world, and that is our religion, and Israel is very close to that source in my opinion.” Kafka hopes to split his time 50/50 between Detroit and Israel. But his plans in the Holy Land are more personal and less professional. “I’m a creative person so I’ll always come and find ways to work,” he said. “But I’m not going to look for my main source of income that comes from Israel … I really want to get to know the market,” he said. “I don’t have to start right away. I want to take my time to really find out what I want to do there. ”

Read the full feature here.

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