Lancaster developer Richard Welkowitz, who quietly built high-profile stores and offices where thousands of countians shop and work, died Thursday, according to the Lancaster County Coroner.
Welkowitz, 73, of 1328 Olde Saybrook Road, had a career that spanned decades, under the name Crown Properties in his early years and since 1997 under the name Blackford Development, LNP files show.
Among his first notable projects, Welkowitz was a developer of Lancaster Outlet City, which opened in 1982 on Lincoln Highway East. It’s now Tanger Outlets.
Lancaster Outlet City, developed by Welkowitz and Stanley Friedman, was the county’s first outlet mall.
“The outlet concept made sense to me,” Welkowitz told LNP in 2007 in a rare interview. He said he scouted the outlets in Reading before pioneering them here.
It was not the only time that the deeply private Welkowitz had a hand in developing key retail buildings here, LNP files show.
Welkowitz also developed Stone Mill Plaza on Columbia Avenue, Regency Square off Rohrerstown Road, the Shoppes at Landis Valley on Oregon Pike, Bloomfield Village on Lititz Pike, Penn Towne Center on Route 72 and Millersville Commons on Route 741.
Besides these and many other retail projects, last year he bought the former headquarters of Susquehanna Bank in downtown Lititz and sold it to Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health for future office space. He also did residential projects here.
But Welkowitz on occasion had a role in proposed projects that fizzled.
In the early 2000s, these included a proposed big-box store on the former Shawnee Resort site on Oregon Pike (now proposed as part of Oregon Village), and a casino, then a federal courthouse in the Bulova building in downtown Lancaster (now redeveloped as 101NQ).
According to a 2016 biography, Welkowitz started working as a laborer at the former County News Agency, a wholesaler of newspapers and magazines, in 1962 while pursuing a business degree at Franklin & Marshall College.
In the next 10 years, he rose to become a co-owner of County News, boosting sales 17 fold.
Meanwhile, Welkowitz started developing real estate in 1968. Eventually his reach went well beyond the Lancaster County line.
At the time the biography was written, he had developed more than 11,000 housing units and 40 million square feet of office, store, industrial and flex space.
That equals the amount of square footage in 28 Park City malls.
His high volume of work earned him the top spot in the Central Penn Business Journal’s annual ranking of commercial developers in the region for at least 15 straight years.
Dave Nikoloff, who spent two years as a vice president of Blackford after leaving the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County as president in 2014, praised Welkowitz’s business acumen.
“He had a gift for real estate, a real gift. He had a keen mind for finance too. When you had a meeting with Rich, you went to school...,” said Nikoloff. “He was unbelievable in the way he could look at a deal.”
Blaze Cambruzzi, who spent 2010-2012 as chief operating officer at LMS Commercial Real Estate, which managed Blackford’s properties, saw the same traits.
“He was a great listener. He had the ability to hear five seemingly conflicting things from five people and stitch them into a positive strategic outcome. It was incredible,” said Cambruzzi.
Southcentral Pennsylvania, though, was just part of Welkowitz’s real estate holdings. Nikoloff said he had “significant real estate holdings all over the United States and Scotland.”
He held the title of Baron of Blackford, bestowed by Lord Lyon of Scotland, according to his biography.
In addition to real estate, Welkowitz was a major investor in cutting-edge technology, investing millions in projects to advance salt-water desalination and digital content management, among others. Through his Blackford Ventures, he invested heavily in growing businesses and real estate.
He also was a leading philanthropist, building a hospital in Burundi, Africa, donating to the West Point Military Academy’s training curriculum and contributing to Shaarai Shomayin Synagogue’s building fund and school in Lancaster, among other gifts.
Messages left by LNP with Blackford Development did not draw a response by deadline.
Lancaster County Coroner Dr. Stephen Diamantoni ruled Welkowitz’s death a suicide. He was found at his Lionheart Motorcars, 1684 Rohrerstown Road, where he kept his personal collection of cars.
Staff Writer Chad Umble contributed to this story.