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It's Happening: Breaking ground at the Divine Lorraine

The Divine Lorraine on North Broad

What does it take to redevelop a massive, beautiful and long-vacant Philadelphia landmark? Sixteen years of financial and political wrangling, a welter of speeches from some of the city’s top politicians and developers, and no less than six very shiny ceremonial shovels.

On September 16, a large crowd gathered at Broad and Fairmount to celebrate an event many Philadelphians thought would never actually materialize: the redevelopment of the 10-story Divine Lorraine Hotel.

Designed by noted Victorian-era architect Willis Hale -- many of whose Philly buildings were later reviled for their ornate "Philadelphia grotesque" style and demolished -- the Divine Lorraine was completed in 1894 at a time when city buildings without elevators rarely reached more than three or four stories high. It’s an architectural landmark as well as an economic and cultural one, serving first as apartments and then as a hotel for Philly’s richest denizens in the manufacturing boom of the early 1900s. Later in 1948, it was purchased by controversial religious leader and social reformer Reverent Major Jealous Divine and became the city’s first racially integrated hotel.

The site was closed and abandoned in 1999, gutted of its furnishings and left looming over North Broad with more graffiti than windowpanes. Developer Eric Blumenfeld of EB Realty Management Corporation purchased the site in 2012. A few years later, thanks to another $44 million in financing through partnerships with real estate lender Billy Procida, the PRA, the State of Pennsylvania and PIDC, construction is finally commencing on a new mixed-use incarnation.

The 21st century Divine Lorraine will feature 109 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. As Mayor Michael Nutter noted in his remarks at the groundbreaking, developer Robert Levine is also building two new apartment towers and a supermarket on the plot behind the old hotel.

Both Mayor Nutter and Deputy Mayor of Economic Development Alan Greenberger -- who also spoke -- called the projects a major "tipping point" in the revitalization of North Broad Street as a whole.

Greenberger described the groundbreaking as a historic day in the city’s life, dubbing the project was "one of Philadelphia’s most transformative developments."

"We’re all in this together…I’m the luckiest guy in the world, because this building has a mystique and a spirit unlike any other project I’ve seen," enthused Blumenfeld. "This building is an organism. It’s alive. It has a heartbeat."

Nedia Ralston, director of Governor Wolf’s Southeast Regional Office, expressed the Governor’s office's enthusiasm for the new Divine Lorraine, which will maintain its historic exterior.

"We can renew a part of history and renew economic opportunities for a community who needs it," she added.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Mayor Michael Nutter; Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger; Eric Blumenfeld, EB Realty Management Corporation; Nedia Ralston, the Governor’s Southeast Regional Office. 

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