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. 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

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 »

Rendering Alert: There’s a Courtyard and Water Feature at Mural Arts Lofts

The former Thaddeus Stevens School on Broad | Photo credit: James Jennings

The former Thaddeus Stevens School on Broad | Photo credit: James Jennings

Oh, wow. We’ve just gotten our hands on the most recent rendering of the planned Mural Arts Lofts (aka, the former Thaddeus Stevens school at Broad and Spring Garden), a 56-unit apartment development, which along with the Divine Lorraine and other projects on North Broad, seems to be paving the way for a potential (and hopefully not so distant?) corridor revitalization. Check it out below!

What’s interesting to note about the newly released rendering is that it contains a courtyard driveway and water feature, elements we hadn’t previously heard of, although EB Realty Management executive director Chris Cordaro told us in an email that “a spectacular courtyard was always in our plans.” Developer Eric Blumenfeld added, “We believe that residential communities are well served by elegant courtyards that give residents a sense of a happy place.”

Blumenfeld’s previous developments, like the Marine Club on South Broad or 640 on North Broad, are an example of this, as he notes they too have been “incorporated a lot of natural materials” and water features.

And so, without further ado, a look at the upcoming Mural Arts Lofts….
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The Divine Lorraine Will Be Reborn, Just Not As a Hotel


Photo: Jeff Fusco


Remember those plans to turn the Divine Lorraine into a boutique hotel? Scrap ’em. “We want to see this project get done now,” said Chris Cordaro of EB Realty Management. “It’s a better project if it gets done today rather than five or 10 years down the road,” he added, who said the hotel is feasible at the location but it’s too long of a development process. So, what’s in store for one of Philadelphia’s most intriguing buildings? Well, let’s just say it goes way beyond fancy drone videos.

Plans now include 126 apartments and two levels of retail, including a lower-level “Garden Veranda” that will expose the southern side of the building and activate it as a retail corridor along Ridge Avenue. The 20,000 square-foot main level will incorporate both retail and the lobby.

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The Wall Street Journal Profiles Unnamed “205-Unit” Project by Eric Blumenfeld

Marine Club | Image: EB Realty Management

Marine Club | Image: EB Realty Management

Here’s one that might have flown under your radar. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal about commercial mortgages and backed securities making a comeback mentions (and quotes) a familiar name, Eric Blumenfeld, and an interesting undefined project. Check it:

As more companies have been jousting to lend, borrowers have been benefiting. Developer Eric Blumenfeld last month secured a $25 million loan for a 205-unit Philadelphia apartment building from an affiliate of Cantor Fitzgerald LP, which then sold it off in a package of commercial mortgage-backed securities. Mr. Blumenfeld said there was more competition among lenders for the loan than he expected and there “was a little bit of a bidding war” before he ultimately went with Cantor, which he had used before.

So, what is this mysterious “205-unit Philadelphia apartment building” that’s mentioned? It turns out that it’s the Marine Club at the southwest corner of Broad and Washington. Wait, isn’t that South Philly? Yes, it is and EB Realty Management says they’re looking to bring amenity-rich, urban luxury to one of the city’s rapidly developing gateway districts.

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