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Are Pieces Finally in Place for North Broad's Renaissance?

The stretch of North Broad St. between Temple University and Spring Garden St. already plays an incredibly vital role in the ecosystem of Philadelphia. It connects students at one of the region's most prolific universities with jobs, recreation, and shopping in Center City. It is also a gateway for residents of North Philly and the northern suburbs to Flyers playoff games and other sporting and entertainment events at the stadiums. In spite of this, some of the blocks between Susquehanna Ave. and Spring Garden St. slump, victims of the world-class potential they can't quite seem to grasp. 

With this in mind, there are serious indications that this stretch of Broad St. is about to undergo a renaissance. The northern end is anchored by major development at Temple University and the rehabilitation of the former cultural icon, the Uptown Theater. The central section at Ridge Ave. may hold the most surprises, as there are ambitious, yet feasible plans for the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Finally, the southern end is in the midst of a development boom with new Stephen Starr and Marc Vetri restaurants, the redevelopment of a former car dealership, and the soon-to-be expansion of a synagogue.

It Starts With Temple
Temple University has triggered a building construction boom on Broad St. The university will be completing the reconstruction of Pearson and McGonigle Halls at Montgomery Ave. next month, while work is well under way on a new environmentally friendly residence hall and community dining space at Cecil B. Moore Ave., says Margaret Carney, Temple's University Architect. 

Carney confirms that that college athletic practice facilities and offices have already opened in the rebuilt Pearson and McGonigle Halls, and that the remainder of the buildings should open in mid-June. She says the new halls will contain a mixture of uses for Temple students, including open retail space, academic advising, a juice bar and cafe, and a climbing wall. The $48 million renovation is one of the first major products of Temple's 20/20 strategic plan, which is driving all of its development. 

A block south crews are constructing a new residence hall at Cecil B. Moore Ave., which should be completed by autumn, 2013. While some sources still refer to the hall as South Gateway, Carney makes it clear that Temple is referring to the building simply as the "new residence hall." She says the hall will be a 10-story multi-use building, with eight stories of student housing, senior staff housing, underground parking, a dining hall, vending space with neighborhood vendors, and a fine dining restaurant.

Temple hopes the new residence hall will be a sustainable space for students and community members alike. The University Architect guarantees the building will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified, and says she hopes for LEED-Silver certification. The building will be "beautiful in terms of materials that will be used," says Carney, who promises a glassy façade and granite steps serving as a liaison between Broad St. and the building. The new residence hall will be punctuated by a 27-story tower on the "northernmost edge of site," says Carney.

The green courtyard in the middle of the residence hall is one of the most exciting components of the development. Carney emphasizes that the courtyard will be open to everyone, whether they're affiliated with Temple or not. It is being designed by Olin Studio, and will include sustainable plantings. According to Carney, Olin and Temple are still deciding whether to include irrigation in the green space. They have worked with the Philadelphia Water Department on sustainable stormwater management. 

While Temple is jazzing up Broad St. above Oxford, they're not the only ones. The Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation (UEDC) is still looking to restore the Uptown Theater between Susquehanna Ave. and Dauphin St. to its mid-20th Century glory. UEDC is still concentrating on façade improvements and finding tenants to occupy the theater's educational and entertainment tower. This tower is expected to be completed next month, likely not too far from the completion date for Pearson and McGonigle Halls. 

Artist's Ambitions
For the past decade, one of the biggest mysteries on North Broad has been the future of the Divine Lorraine Hotel. The building has a storied history as the first hotel of its kind in the country to be racially integrated. The artist who wants to transform the old hotel, Kunkle, says that fact gave Philadelphia its "City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection" moniker. 

As the founder of the Philadelphia Salon art collective, Kunkle is passionate about art, and just as passionate about the neighborhood around Broad and Ridge. It's this passion that led her to work with local developer Eric Blumenfeld, who's responsible for Lofts 640 on N. Broad and Marine Club Condos on S. Broad, among many other residential developments. Blumenfeld has proposed a radical development for the Divine Lorraine, which would include four merged city high schools, including Masterman and Ben Franklin, a cafeteria with food from Marc Vetri, and state-of-the-art science labs. Blumenfeld did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

A major component of Blumenfeld's redevelopment of the Divine Lorraine is Kunkle's idea for the Philadelphia Interactive Museum of Contemporary Art (PIMOCA). Kunkle foresees a space where various art programs and academic institutions could store their work for all to see. "Philadelphia has a creative arts index that is healthier than any other American arts economy, but there's no interactivity," she says. Already, the Philadelphia Salon has received a groundswell of interest in sharing space at PIMOCA. Kunkle says interested parties include the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, Temple and Drexel Universities, and the University of Pennsylvania

Kunkle is intensely upbeat about PIMOCA's chances of opening at the Divine Lorraine. "It's materializing way faster than I thought," says Kunkle. She says she already has donors rushing to give money, including one person who wants to give money in "increments of $25 million." She also has the support of the building's owner, Mike Treacy, as well as the resources that Blumenfeld brings to the palette. 

The Philadelphia Salon wants PIMOCA to be way more than just an art museum. Kunkle suggests that PIMOCA may offer low-income housing for community members and artists who volunteer at the museum. She also hints that the redeveloped Divine Lorraine might include a sculpture and vegetable garden. 

Kunkle has a couple of goals with PIMOCA. First of all, she hopes to extend the Avenue of the Arts to N. Broad St. Second of all, she wants to empower the community without gentrification. Ultimately, she hopes PIMOCA "incorporates and feeds" and "very specifically meets the needs of the community." The museum would also be accessible to community members in that it would be completely free. "The public gets to see what everyone has in their closets for free," says Kunkle. 

As for the educational component of the Divine Lorraine restoration, it looks like a bold, but cost-effective, idea. Blumenfeld wants to merge the Franklin Learning Center, Parkway Center City High School, along with Ben Franklin and Masterman. Kunkle says that the School District of Philadelphia would save $5 million a year through this, which is in line with recommendations in the District Chief Recovery Officer's recent report detailing the perceived need to close dozens of schools. In addition, the idea of Marc Vetri serving food to public school students might seem far-fetched, but actually makes sense. Vetri has recently poured much of his attention into N. Broad, opening Alla Spina this past February and Osteria in Lofts 640 in 2007. 

Development Streak Continues
In the past few years, the segment between Spring Garden and Wallace Sts. has driven the culinary development of N. Broad. In addition to Vetri's Osteria at Mt. Vernon St. and Alla Spina at Green St., Stephen Starr recently opened the Route 6 seafood restaurant as part of the Wilkie car dealership redevelopment. Also included in the Wilkie development, the Vie catering facility opened in autumn, 2011.

The Congregation Rodeph Shalom synagogue is looking to make the blocks north of Spring Garden an even more vibrant place by expanding and renovating its facility. This will entail adding 27,000 square feet to the synagogue at Mt. Vernon St, which will be filled with an early learning center, a larger worship space, more classrooms, new administrative offices, and a more convenient clergy suite, says Dena Herrin, the president of the Congregation. Kieran Timberlake will be the architect, so it's little surprise that the expansion will bring new green space with it.      

The synagogue believes its expansion jives well with the other redevelopment gracing N. Broad. "We thought that we would be the very early leaders in the renaissance of our North Broad neighborhood, but so much has already happened in terms of restaurants, new homes, and of course the exciting initiatives around Temple University," says Herrin. She also points out that many of the new members that are inundating the congregation are residents of the N. Broad community. The president expects to break ground in September, and says the expansion and renovation should take no more than two years. 

Before that long, it just may be part of a destination.

"The development along North Broad expands Center City options for living, learning, and enjoying our city," says Herrin. "This is an increasingly vibrant section of Philadelphia." 


Hotel Blue

Construction on Temple's campus

North Broad St

The Divine Lorraine

Alla Spina

Congregation Rodeph Shalom

Redevelopment from Spring Garden St., headed north
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