MAYOR NUTTER, City Council President Darrell Clarke and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger came to praise developer Eric Blumenfeld's "never-say-die" attitude in finally getting a deal done to renovate the Divine Lorraine Hotel.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, both Nutter and Greenberger said the $44 million restoration would be a "tipping point" to enhance the revitalization of North Broad Street.
"Restoring the Divine Lorraine to its former glory was among my top economic-development priorities," Nutter said.
"North Broad Street will rival South Broad Street for vitality, creating the best urban street anywhere in America."
Meanwhile, across town on South Street between 2nd and 3rd, where Blumenfeld owns the Abbotts Square development with condos above ground-floor retail space, nearly every storefront is vacant and boarded up.
The only active stores are a Rita's Water Ice, in the middle of the block, the Chef's Table catering company and the SuperCuts hair salon.
Across the street, Mohan Parmar, owner of the Lovash Restaurant, said the vacancies at Abbotts Square have caused business at his restaurant to drop off. He no longer opens for lunch from Monday through Thursday because foot traffic is so slow, he said.
The day before the Lorraine groundbreaking, Blumenfeld had said that he plans to announce a new tenant at 2nd and South, possibly a large grocery store, next week. He said he also plans to fix up the exteriors of the storefronts.
Blumenfeld has been busy focusing on North Broad, with plans not only for the Divine Lorraine but also for the Metropolitan Opera House near Poplar.
He said the apartments at the Mural Arts Lofts, at Broad and Spring Garden, will open soon, and he also has plans to renovate the old Studebaker Building, at Broad and Brown.
But it's the Divine Lorraine, vacant since 1999, that Blumenfeld calls his "dream" project.
Built in the 1890s as an apartment building for wealthy residents, it was converted to the Divine Lorraine Hotel after the Rev. Major Jealous Divine, known as Father Divine, bought it in 1948. It became the first integrated hotel in Philadelphia.
At Wednesday's groundbreaking, Billy Procida, the New Jersey-based lender financing more than half of the $44 million project, called Greenberger one of the best public servants he has met.
"We needed government help to do this," Procida said.
The city gave Blumenfeld a $1 million grant from the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority issued a $2.5 million loan.
Also, the state awarded Blumenfeld a $3.5 million grant under its Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.
Nutter was frank about the difficulty of the project at the Divine Lorraine, a building that Blumenfeld purchased for the second time in 2012.
Nutter said: "I had to look Eric in the eye and told him, 'If you don't do certain things by a certain date, I'm taking this building away from you and we will find someone else to do it.' "