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Murals aim to further neighborhood's revival

Developer Tony Goldman lay awake in his bed one night, staring at the ceiling of his SoHo bedroom. About 4 a.m., he said, it hit him: His Center City turf was ready for art.

Developer Tony Goldman lay awake in his bed one night, staring at the ceiling of his SoHo bedroom.

About 4 a.m., he said, it hit him: His Center City turf was ready for art.

"That's the way it always happens," he said. Art, Goldman said, is last phase of his commercial development strategy, though the most important.

It's Philadelphia's turn now, but Goldman has revitalized neighborhoods before. Miami's South Beach and New York's SoHo were both reborn on his watch and his penny.

But unlike the other phases of development, you can't schedule art. So, Goldman, 68, waits for revelation to strike him, the way it did this year for his Philadelphia properties.

Monday afternoon, Goldman stood in the 100 block of South 13th Street in Center City - in another neighborhood he helped save - to announce a partnership with Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program.

In New York and Miami, Goldman worked with well-known artists like Shepard Fairey, Retna, and Nunca to bring street art to communities he helped. The New York-based real estate mogul now plans to do the same in Philadelphia.

It's still undetermined which artists Goldman will help reel in, but names like Fairey's are likely, he said. No details on murals were revealed.

Monday's ceremony included the unveiling of a mural by Kenny Scharf on a 13th Street wall. It is the first Philadelphia mural that Goldman helped to coordinate, and Scharf is the first internationally known artist to paint a mural for the city, said Jane Golden, Mural Arts Program director.

"It's not just about art for art's sake. It's art as a tool for economic development and community education," she said.

Although a private entrepreneur, Goldman uses public art as part of his business model. That's because he doesn't develop single storefronts or buildings or even streets; instead, he said, he develops communities.

In 1999, he bought most of the buildings between 12th and Juniper Streets from Chestnut to Walnut Streets. The final tab was well over $60 million.

At the time, most of the area was check-cashing stores, adult-movie theaters, and sex-toy shops. "It was a complete red-light district," he said. "It had hit the bottom."

As their new landlord, Goldman forced those businesses out. When they moved across the street, he bought those buildings and forced them out again.

Then he carefully picked who could move in.

"Don't rent to brand names," he preaches. "Brand names suck the life out of neighborhoods, they take their money and send it away. We want loyal, passionate people who will tough it out."

A few years ago, the owners of what's now the Lolita restaurant pitched their plan to Goldman, but they couldn't get a loan. Goldman put up $50,000 to guarantee their loan to a bank.

The risk of investing in a place like Lolita is worth the reward, because Goldman's developments are a synergism - the whole more valuable than the sum of the parts.

"When you have that kind of pumping, positive prosperity, something happens to a neighborhood," he said. "Things cross-pollinate. The ice cream customers discover the soap store, the soap-store customers find the ice cream store."

At the ceremony, Mayor Nutter praised the patience and money Goldman put into the region, which some now call Midtown.

"He had a vision like no other, and it took a while for it to really sink in. He talked about 13th Street and the things that could happen," Nutter said. "Now, we have thousands and thousands and thousands of folks, including myself, spending a lot of time on 13th Street."

Look for Goldman's stretch of 13th Street to be painted this fall, right on the street. And more murals are on the way.

"If you're just in four walls, you're in prison, and even prisoners put up art in their environments," he said.