On May 17, ULI Philadelphia Young Leaders will host a tour of the Divine Lorraine, a pivotal development project for Philadelphia’s North Broad Street neighborhood. We asked Eric Blumenfeld and Chris Cordaro, President and Vice President of EB Realty, to share some insights into their work and the future of their development efforts in Philadelphia.
ULI: Why focus on North Broad Street?
Blumenfeld: 12 years ago, The North Broad Street Corridor was a godforsaken, forgotten stretch of Philadelphia consisting of a wide array of contrasting yet interesting and historic buildings, all of which were vacant and most of which were neglected. It just struck me that it made absolutely no sense. I was convinced that this corridor was a natural and in need of someone to champion its cause. After all, an artist needs a canvas and a canvas needs an artist.
Cordaro: We really see this section as one project. We look at this from the 100,000 foot viewpoint. Eric tried to link the buildings with synergies that would allow us to create that community where it was missing. We’ve created a walkable corridor that breathes new life and new development into the area. We really look at this as a holistic project.
ULI: You began with restaurants and residences at 600 and 640 North Broad. Can you talk about your intent with those projects?
Blumenfeld: The idea behind Lofts 640 was to create a residential community that was scalable enough to offer great lifestyle and to prove a model that people would embrace. Our tagline was “best bang for the buck” and we offered 900 square foot loft spaces with 13 foot ceilings and with all the bells and whistles at a price point that competed with much more established locations. Our next mission was to collaborate with a premier restauranteur in Marc Vetri to prove that there was a commercial viability to the corridor.
Osteria was named one of the top five restaurants in the country by The James Beard Society after a year in operation. This feat gave us the momentum to convert the former Wilke Buick dealership at 600 North Broad into additional restaurants again with Marc Vetri and with the addition of Stephen Starr and Cescaphe’s opening of Vie, which became one of Philadelphia’s premier large scale indoor/outdoor banquet halls.
Cordaro: If you think about what makes a neighborhood vibrant and gives it personality, think about where you go – you go to a restaurant where you meet up with friends, commune together, eat, drink and play. A combination of residential units – lofts at 640 and 600 – with meeting places where people can congregate and enjoy a meal with friends and family creates the perfect opportunity to bolster that community, which is important to the redevelopment of a neighborhood.
ULI: What is the most exciting part of the development process?
Blumenfeld: Imagining what can be and having the vision and the persistence to make it happen.
Cordaro: Watching the transformation. We’re going into buildings that are totally beyond livable – they are uninhabitable – and in a lot of instances, slated for demolition. If we wouldn’t have gone in and saved these buildings, they would have been totally destroyed and lost forever. Watching a building go from a deteriorating shell to the point of grandeur that we see now in the Divine Lorraine is so exciting. There are literally artisans in the lobby right now doing old school plasterwork. We have an entire plaster center at the Studebaker building, it’s amazing to watch the entire process. That artisanship and that skill level is a lost art. Bringing that back is just beyond words.
ULI: What is the most challenging part of the Divine Lorraine Hotel development process?
Blumenfeld: Getting the financing!
ULI: What has been the community response to the development of the Divine Lorraine Hotel?
Blumenfeld: In a word, overwhelming. I’m not sure whether it’s been about the grandeur of the building’s architectural design, the spirit of its history or it’s symbolism as how a great city like Philadelphia with its historical significance can progress in a sustainable way combining the repurposing of historical structures interspersed with new ones or more likely, all of the above. What I do know is that the re-creation of the Divine Lorraine Hotel as a centerpiece of the larger community has resonated as a way of bringing people and the community together. The Divine Lorraine has magic.
Cordaro: We met with all local CEO’s and civic groups. There is a community, there is an identity, and we want to help bolster that. It’s all about communication with community members, understanding what their needs are, and helping to support those local initiatives. That really attributes to the success of this.
ULI: What other projects are on the horizon?
Blumenfeld: We are in the midst of creating a district with great connectivity by interweaving residential communities with a diversity of fine dining, casual eateries, bars, lounges and various music and entertainment venues and by expanding the daytime traffic through a collaboration with Ben’s Desk called Divine Works, a futuristic think tank of office space in a chic industrial setting designed to spark innovation in a comfort zone of creativity.
The conversion of the Studebaker Building, a little sister building to The Divine Lorraine Hotel. For the first time, we are looking to introduce some edgy retail and collaborate on another neighborhood restaurant that is more casual.We also have a new construction gateway project planned for the intersections of Broad & Spring Garden streets that will have first floor service retail, second floor studio space and a school above comprised of both classroom space, dormitories and art studios.
We have a collaboration with Live Nation, for a $50 million makeover of The Metropolitan Opera House into a world class concert/theatrical venue that will be a driving catalyst to catapult North Broad Street overnight into the best entertainment district anywhere. It is also the only venue ever imagined that combines entertainment, museum, a church and historical restoration all under one roof and as far as I know, this has never been done before.
Cordaro: We just finished a development at Abbotts Square atat Headhouse Square, an introduction of 47 apartment units. We also completed the landlord scope of work for large grocery store. That neighborhood is in need of a grocery store, and with introduction of additional units, it will be a nice little boost.
The city is gearing more towards community and the family. We’re trying to develop in that way so that the development and the community happens in the highest and best way.
Written by Kate Ward, Business Development Director, Bernardon, and ULI Young Leader Communications co-chair.