Philly Developers ‘Terrified,’ ‘Intrigued’ to Have One of Their Own As President

AP Photo/John Minchillo URN:23754236

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Real estate developers tend to have a funny relationship to politics. On the one hand, they often flood local elections with campaign donations and relentlessly lobby for policies that will make their work easier and more profitable. On the other hand, they need friends in government in order to make deals and get important approvals, so their public political statements are usually diplomatic, calculated to achieve a certain result without offending anyone powerful.

President-elect Donald Trump, who started his career as a real estate developer, fits that mold in some ways and smashes it in others. While his pronouncements are calculated for advantage, they are also routinely offensive, though more often to the powerless than the powerful. And in some respects—his bombast, his ego, his unembarrassed pursuit of profit and tacky opulence—he provides the world with a cartoon picture of the stereotypical real estate man.

I was curious how some of Philadelphia’s more prominent developers felt about having one of their own in the White House, so I asked a few. Philadelphia is, of course, a Democratic Party town, and for the most part, these developers’ comments echoed the sort of restrained, cautious acceptance we’ve seen from prominent Democratic officials in the wake of the election. But in many instances, I detected an undercurrent of despair.

“The public perception of real estate developers, as a result of Trump’s ascension to the Presidency, has already changed,” said Ken Weinstein, a Germantown developer and owner of the Trolley Car Diner. “More than a few people, upon learning that I am a developer, have already asked if I pay taxes, if I stiff my subcontractors and how many times I have filed for bankruptcy (yes, no and zero).  Most developers are ethical business people so using Trump as an example of a typical real estate developer is not accurate.”

“I think he has developed many abysmal projects with little thought given to the value of community impact or design,” said Lindsey Scannapieco, who owns the former Bok Technical High School, one of the biggest buildings in South Philadelphia, which not been free of controversy. “However, I hope that his push on infrastructure investment provides momentum for thoughtful and important re-investments that create a more equitable landscape across the country.” Read more »

The Divine Lorraine, Getting Ready For Its Closeup

The lobby of the Divine Lorraine, outfitted with a "check-in counter" for today's open house. | Photos: Sandy Smith

The lobby of the Divine Lorraine, outfitted with a “check-in counter” for today’s open house. | Photos: Sandy Smith

Around the turn of the last century, when the four buildings developer Eric Blumenfeld is in the process of reconstructing were built, North Broad Street was the address of choice for Philadelphia’s new money. The streetcar magnates and captains of industry who built mansions along this street staked it out after the city’s old-money Establishment around Rittenhouse Square shunned them.

The mansions have all vanished from the scene, but today, North Broad Street is witnessing another influx of new money, this time in the form of millions of dollars being invested in its redevelopment as a live/work/play environment. Four buildings, all owned by Blumenfeld, are serving as the linchpins of that transformation, building on his earlier success with conversion of a factory to loft apartments and a former car dealership into restaurants and a catering hall.

Blumenfeld, his chief financier William Procida of Procida Funding and Advisors, and commercial real estate agents Dominique Casimir and Jackie Balin of CBRE Fameco led a group of about 20 interested parties and two reporters on a tour of the four buildings this morning. Read more »

Want to Check Out the Divine Lorraine’s Progress? Stop By Wednesday Afternoon

Photo: James Jennings

Photo: James Jennings

Last September, developer Eric Blumenfeld invited the public to tour the Divine Lorraine Hotel so they could see for themselves that work was actually under way to restore the landmark building to its full glory after years of neglect and decay.

An overflow crowd showed up to take him up on the offer. Now, with interest in the project continuing to run strong — a merchandise collection continues to sell well at both Lapstone & Hammer in Center City and occasional pop-up shops — Blumenfeld is inviting the public in once again to view progress on the restoration.  Read more »

Groundbreaking: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been for the Divine Lorraine

I hopped in a cab at 18th and Market and told the driver, Broad and Ridge Avenue, please, the Divine Lorraine. I then muttered to myself in almost disbelief: Holy crap, that’s going to be a thing now.

Well, it’s official: the massive (and fully funded) redevelopment project at the Divine Lorraine broke ground on Wednesday. Yes, there are pictures to prove it.

Its long, winding journey of decay and blight now turns the page from a more hopeful chapter of late to one that will actually see something get done.  Designed by Willis G. Hale and built in the 1890’s, the architectural masterpiece has sat vacant for 16 years. Now, within 16 months, it will be reborn as a landmark building once again, as Blumenfeld, backed by mega-funder Billy Procida, plans to bring 109 luxury apartments and four “Vetri-caliber” restaurants to emerging North Broad corridor.

But, like I said, it’s been a long strange trip for Blumenfeld with the Divine Lorraine.

The Story

“I bought the building originally in 2004 for like, $2.2 million and sold it in 2005 for $10.1 [million],” Blumenfeld told me prior to the festivities, “and I was fuckin’ miserable. Every day, I’d come and see the developer ripping it apart. 

Read more »

Divine Lorraine Secures Construction Loan; How About a Papal Blessing?

Photo: James Jennings

Photo: James Jennings

News came down this week that Eric Blumenfeld had secured a $35 million construction loan to all but officially mark the redevelopment process at the historic Divine Lorraine.

“We finally got it done,” said Billy Procida, founder of Procida Funding & Advisors in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The company is providing the private funding for the Divine Lorraine and the other Blumenfeld projects on North Broad Street. Washington Square Realty Capital helped arrange the loan, which Procida described it as the longest and most complicated closing of his life.

But that’s all behind them now, and construction has actually started inside the famed building. “Domus is on site and they have started construction,” Christopher Cordaro, vice president at EB Realty Management, Blumenfeld’s development company, said in an email. “There is nothing holding us back now!”

It was a statement that Procida echoed: “It’s up and going, and ain’t nothing stopping it.”

Read more »

Starr Catering to Have “State of the Art Office Headquarters” on North Broad

EBRM's Studebaker Building project. Photo: James Jennings

EBRM’s Studebaker Building project | Photo: James Jennings

The recent sale of Stephen Starr’s catering arm won’t alter the redevelopment plans at the Studebaker Building at 667 North Broad Street, Eric Blumenfeld, president of EB Realty Management Corp., said in a statement late last week.

Starr, who flipped his $40-million-per-year Starr Restaurants Catering Group to global food service firm TrustHouse Services Group for an undisclosed fee last week, has his Starr Events headquartered at the colorful building on North Broad. Blumenfeld said he initially “invested approximately $2 million in the build out of their facility, which includes a magnificent tasting room and a top-of-the-line catering kitchen.”

We told you back in January that EB Realty Management Corp. plans to take the multi-color facade off and restore the original “brick skin” from its former life as a Studebaker automobile showroom that is still intact underneath it. So while the plan hasn’t changed, it has been tweaked. According to Blumenfeld, the upper floors of the Studebaker Building will be expanded into “a new state of the art office headquarters” that will serve as the “home-base” for the entire catering operation.

Read more »

Divine Lorraine Moves One Step Closer

North Broad Street | Photos: James Jennings

North Broad Street in April 2015| Photos: James Jennings

Brace yourselves, folks. News regarding the Divine Lorraine is going to come fast and furious until the “groundbreaking” event takes place, hopefully sometime in August. Think of it as Property’s version of “Pope Watch.”

On Tuesday, developer Eric Blumenfeld went before the Architectural Committee of the Historical Commission to present the plans for the historic renovation that’s about to take place at the Grand Old Dame of North Broad Street. PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey reports that the committee voted to approve the overall plans for the project, but had a few suggestions for the man at the center of North Broad’s revival.

Read more »

Prayers Answered: Blumenfeld Has Funding to Make Divine Lorraine Happen

Photo: Jeff Fusco

Photo: Jeff Fusco

The moment has finally arrived, Eric Blumenfeld (and EB Realty Management) has all of the funds needed to make the Divine Lorraine project a reality. PlanPhilly’s Jared Brey reports that the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority approved a $2.5 million loan and a separate $1 million grant to push the project’s financing over the hump:

That money, combined with a $3.5 million state grant awarded last week, federal historic tax credits worth the same amount, and a $30 million investment from New Jersey real estate lender Billy Procida, will allow Blumenfeld to start work on the redevelopment next month.

You may recall that a tour of the property in April revealed some interesting details about the project, including the news that it would be comprised of 109 apartments and approximately 20,000-square-feet of retail space. Procida, who described himself as a “very active and involved lender,” told Property earlier this week that the Divine Lorraine should close in the next 30 days. “It’s probably the most difficult closing of my life,” said Procida, who also mentioned that it’s “probably the prettiest building we’ve ever done.”

Read more »

Tour Shines Light on the Future of the Divine Lorraine and Mural Lofts

North Broad Street | Photos: James Jennings

North Broad Street | Photos: James Jennings

Oh man, does it look like the winds of change are finally starting to take shape on North Broad Street. Eric Blumenfeld, backed by mega-investor Billy Procida, recently gave a tour for those involved with each project to show them how his plan will completely change the corridor. The tour included Mural Lofts at the former Thaddeus Stevens School at Broad and Spring Garden Street and even a brief dip into the Divine Lorraine, a project that needs no introduction. The future seems brighter than ever, and it seems to start with high end apartments.

Blumenfeld’s first muse was to transform the Mulford Building into the 265-unit Lofts at 640 at Broad and Wallace. Head south a few blocks to Spring Garden Street and you’ll find Bart Blatstein’s relatively new project at the former State Office Building, which he revamped into 204 apartment units. In addition to the new digs, the ‘spur’ at the Rail Park on Noble Street is inching forward and North Broad Street will soon see the first of 46 “light masts” rise from the median. Blumenfeld plans 165 new apartment units with the projects at Mural Lofts (56) and the Divine Lorraine (109). So let’s get right to it. Read more »

Morning Headlines: Blumenfeld in Hot Water Over Dealings at The Met

Philly_Met_Broad_St
It seems like not a week goes by without some news pertaining to Eric Blumenfeld’s march to redevelop North Broad Street. However this time, it’s not about beignets, the Divine Lorraine or even a new apartment building with a fancy water feature. According to the Daily News, a lawsuit has been filed against the developer by Holy Ghost Headquarters Revival Center over control of The Met, a hulking and formerly spectacular opera house Broad and Poplar Streets.

The suit claims that “Blumenfeld misled the Church into relinquishing title to and giving him [Blumenfeld] a controlling interest in the Met.”

The church purchased the property in 1997 for $250,000–saving it from the wrecking ball. It later partnered with Blumenfeld, giving him controlling interest in the property, to help restore the historic building. Only it claims the opposite occurred and the developer wasn’t up front about financial and legal issues, gutted the church and then didn’t restore the property. It seeks to dissolve the “partnership between Blumenfeld and the church, return of the title to the church and damages in excess of $50,000,” according to the Daily News.

Back in July, EB Realty Management said they were kicking around the idea of having a large catering facility (upwards of 20,000 square-feet) in the basement of the building with a separate space for Rev. Hatcher’s Holy Ghost Revival Center. EB Realty Management could not be reached for comment.

Church sues developer over Metropolitan Opera House on N. Broad St. [Daily News] Read more »

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