William "Billy" Procida, a North Jersey developer-turned-financier who in the past has promoted project ideas in
» READ MORE: Camden and Fishtown,
hoped work would have started by now on 120 new apartments plus ground-level stores at the Divine Lorraine, the badly-gutted, grafitti-marked, vacant-for-15-years Victorian ex-hotel that looms above the gentrifying North Broad St. corridor that links Center City to Temple U. That's what Procida
» READ MORE: told my colleague Jennifer Lin
in May, after cutting a deal with developer Eric Blumenfeld (who has his own
» READ MORE: complex
» READ MORE: history
) to pump $31.5 million into the project.
And now? "We expect to close that early in the new year. Have they announced the state grant yet?" Procida asked me. The state grant of which he speaks is $3.5 million that Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. chief John Grady tells me has been approved under the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program for the Divine Lorraine (I wrote about that in 2013.) "We are in the process of working with the developer and the Commonwealth to complete the grant and sub-grant agreements necessary to finalize the award," adds Grady. Procida also says work starts "this month" for 56 units at the Thaddeus Stevens/Mural Arts building at nearby 1730 Mount Vernon St. (Mural Arts was approved for $1 million in RACP funds way back in 2006.)
Why do these Philly apartment projects need taxpayer money? "They want everything to be union," Procida told me, and that means paying into worker retirement and pension plans which can add 10% to costs (with the long-term social benefit of keeping old and disabled construction workers off the streets.) Which might not be a big cost at New York prices, or for buildings that command top sale or rental prices. But Philadelphia, Procida says, "is still an emerging market. This isn't super luxury stuff. We're in some regards doing God's work." And they're not gonna do it, at today's rents, without a helping hand from the taxpayer.