The hulking ruins of North Broad Street are coming back to life.
In a news conference at the recently revived Divine Lorraine Hotel Monday afternoon, the initial schedule was announced for the Met Philadelphia, the vast concert hall just a few blocks north built by Oscar Hammerstein I in 1908 that's been dormant for decades.
The $56 million renovation of the Met, which occupies an entire city block at Broad and Poplar, is nearly complete, and the 3,500-capacity venue, which was once the largest theater of its kind in the world, is scheduled to open in December.
On Monday, city officials, concert promoters, real estate developers, and four members of the Opera Company of Philadelphia singing "God Bless America" gathered under the crystal chandelier in the main lobby of the former home of the ministry of evangelist Father Divine to celebrate the revival of the concert hall up the street and tout its potential economic impact on North Philadelphia.
The biggest name announced was Bob Dylan, who will open the venue on Dec. 3 in a show that will mark his 50th time playing in the Philadelphia area. Tickets for that show, part of his Never Ending Tour, go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 14, via Ticketmaster.
Weezer will follow on Dec. 12. After those first two big acts, the reunited New Hope duo Ween will play on Dec. 14, Philadelphia singer and rapper PnB Rock (fresh off a Made in America cameo with Meek Mill) plays there Dec. 28, and indie rock hero Kurt Vile will be there Dec. 29. Those dates also go on sale Sept. 14.
"This music venue will help continue the revitalization of North Broad Street," Mayor Kenney said at the event, which was emceed by WDAS deejay Patty Jackson. "This is a great way to return a historic building which was once an opera house to productive use. You can't help but be musical in North Philadelphia. There's a lot of soul in North Philly, and it's all going to permeate that building."
The Met is jointly owned by developer Eric Blumenfeld and the Holy Ghost Headquarters Church, the most recent occupant of the building, whose history includes boxing matches, basketball games, and classical performances, as well as serving as a recording studio of sorts for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The grand venue will be leased and operated by concert promotion company Live Nation, which said the venue, which can be adjusted to hold between 2,200 and 3,500 concertgoers, would provide 275 to 350 part-time jobs per show, with performances likely to average eight a month. Local Live Nation chief Geoff Gordon stressed that the Met will present acts in a variety of genres. "We want everybody to come. That's why PnB Rock is on there, that's why [old-school R&B singer] Charlie Wilson is on there. That's why the comedy is on there."
City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose district includes the Met, talked about how city preservationists and Holy Ghost Rev. Mark Hatcher worked to save the Met from planned demolition (and replacement by big-box retailers) in the late 1990s.
"I told Councilman Clarke 21 years ago," Hatcher said. "You can't tear this historic building down. It means a lot to the neighborhood, it means a lot to the City of Philadelphia. That building had a plan and a purpose." Hatcher then led the dignitaries in a prayer circle. Holy Ghost Church Services will still be held in the Met, starting Sunday, Dec. 9.
After the news conference, attendees toasted nonalcoholic mimosas and munched on canapes and macarons from chef Jean Marie Lacroix's Brulee Catering (which will be handling the Met's food concessions), Blumenfeld talked about seeing his plans for the redevelopment of the North Broad corridor, which began when he bought the Divine Lorraine in 2006.
"My job is to first make [stuff] up and then make it come true," said the 55-year-old developer, who was positively characterized as "crazy" by more than one speaker at the event. "The Met is just going to be a magnet. There are so many things that are going to happen around the Met. Think about it… How the hell can Philly let Cirque du Soleil go to King of Prussia? They belong in Philadelphia!
"Think about the range of that venue. It's probably the only rock, theatrical, circus, church venue — church venue! — in the world. My whole life is about people saying, 'No, no, no!' And at some point, I just became numb to it. I knew this was going to be a yes. It was just a question of how long it was going to take.
"The connectivity of this neighborhood is all about being able to walk from City Hall to Temple University, and every block having a reason and a rhyme. Nobody ever believed me, until maybe today."
The locally connected concerts with Ween, PnB Rock, and Vile are being marketed as a #hoMETownSHOW series that includes singer-songwriter Amos Lee, who has just released his seventh album, My New Moon, though he doesn't play the Met until April 6.
Other December dates include violinist Lindsey Stirling on Dec. 18, WDAS holiday jam with Charlie Wilson and Stokley of Mint Condition on Dec. 22, and comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver on Dec. 30 and on New Year's Eve.
The complete schedule for the Met so far so is as follows. More dates in December and January are expected to be announced in the coming weeks:
Dec. 3: Bob Dylan
Dec. 12: Weezer
Dec. 14: Ween
Dec. 18: Lindsey Sterling
Dec. 22: WDAS Holiday Jam
Dec. 28: PnB Rock
Dec. 29: Kurt Vile & the Violators
Dec. 30-31: John Oliver
Jan. 11: Greensky Bluegrass
Jan. 19: Impractical Jokers starring the Tenderloins
Feb. 9: Jim Gaffigan
Feb. 24: Scott Bradlee's Post-Modern Jukebox
March 9: James Bay & his Electric Light Tour*
April 6: Amos Lee with Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia
April 27: Brian Regan
June 14: Derek Hough*