Philadelphia developer Hal Wheeler was known as a visionary. “He was one of the people who helped shape the skyline of Philadelphia with a key project that is in one of our most important neighborhoods, which is Rittenhouse Square,” said Michael Sklaroff, a real estate attorney with Ballard Spahr who worked with Mr. Wheeler and his company Wheeler Bros. “He saw the possibilities and had the drive to see it through.”

But the economic crisis affected his business magic, as it did others’. When he died suddenly at 54 a year and a half ago, celebrated projects were in trouble. “As with many things, timing is key and he ended up swimming against currents that made it difficult for some of the most successful developers in the nation who had projects that didn’t succeed,” Mr. Sklaroff said.