After months of uncertainty as the city threatened to seize the land, construction of a $70 million Mormon temple near Logan Square will not only proceed but will help make the Parkway "one of the most incredible boulevards anywhere in the world," Mayor Nutter said Monday.
The 68,000-square-foot Philadelphia Temple at 17th and Vine Streets will create 300 building jobs and 50 permanent jobs, and attract 400,000 visitors a year, bringing "tens of millions of dollars of additional spending" to the city, Nutter said at a news conference.
Groundbreaking is expected late this year or early next year, according to officials of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The site is close to the Free Library, the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, and the future Barnes Collection. It will include a visitor center and a genealogical research facility as well as the temple, which is open to Mormons only for religious rites.
The prospect of an LDS temple in Philadelphia had seemed increasingly remote during the last two years.
In 2008, the church acquired land for a temple in the 400 block of North Broad Street, but had to abandon that site when the ground was found to be polluted.
In 2009, church officials negotiated with developer Stephen Klein to buy a parcel between 17th and 18th Streets.
Klein acquired the tract in 1987 for $3.7 million from the Franklin Town Corp., according to Klein's spokesman Kirk Dorn. The city's Redevelopment Authority (RDA) had oversight of the deal and Klein agreed to build on it within five years. He used it as a parking lot while he searched for a suitable project, a process that lasted more than two decades.
Soon after the Mormon deal was conceived, the RDA informed him it would seize the site because he had taken too long to develop it. Early this year, the agency sued Klein to regain the land, casting what Klein called a cloud over the Mormon temple.
In June, the RDA offered to drop its lawsuit if Klein agreed to pay the agency 25 percent, or $1.9 million, of the Mormons' $7.5 million purchase price.
Klein balked, and several City Council members berated the agency for jeopardizing the project. Church officials said they had begun looking outside the city.
On Monday, Nutter and RDA Executive Director Terry Gillen declined to discuss what arrangement the city made with Klein to resolve the dispute. "Both sides are satisfied," the mayor said.
Dorn said Klein offered $100,000 to cover administrative fees and the city ultimately accepted that offer.
A site plan and architectural drawings likely will be available in September, Elder Robert B. Smith, a local LDS official, said at the news conference.
The design must first be approved by leaders of the denomination in Salt Lake City.
Philadelphia is among the last major cities on the East Coast to get an LDS temple. Distinct from the churches or meetinghouses where Mormons worship on Sundays, temples typically are massive and built of white marble. The 173,000-square-foot temple in Kensington, Md., outside Washington, a prominent sight on the Beltway, is topped by six golden spires that rise 288 feet.
One of the fastest growing denominations in the United States, and the fourth largest, the LDS Church claims 5.5 million members nationwide and 13 million worldwide. Officials estimate that 40,000 will use the Philadelphia temple.
Ahmed Corbett, a Mormon elder in South Jersey, said at the news conference that the church regarded the neighborhood around Logan Square as a "venerable and sacred place" because of William Penn's and James Logan's history of religious tolerance. Logan, Philadelphia mayor in the early 18th century, allowed the city's first public Catholic Masses.