Divine Lorraine touted as the saviour of North Broad Street

Leading a group of real estate agents and nvestors on a tour Wednesday, Billy Procida, the beaming CEO of Procida Funding, proudly showed off the centerpiece of a revitalized North Broad Street.

“Picture that neon sign lit up!” Procida exclaimed, pointing to the Divine Lorraine sign atop the building, which he said they plan to activate this summer. “We don’t even need advertising!”

The Divine Lorraine, a historic 10-floor building at Fairmount and Broad Street erected in 1892 as apartments and a hotel, is best known as the home of religious leader Father Divine’s International Peace Mission movement, which bought the building in 1948 and occupied it for decades.

Now it’s set to become 109 high-end units – expected to rent out at $1,350 to $2,600 a month – with 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail. With financing from Procida, developer Eric Blumenfeld is overseeing the project, as well as several others in the vicinity.

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Not everyone was entralled with the prospect of gleaming new condos coming to the grim, long-blighted block just north of Center City.

“I don’t think the prices should be that high. … Some people around here be on welfare,” said Rasheeda Brown, 19. “They should make it equal, like $800-900 a month, or $400-500 for a one-bedroom. … Hahnemann [Hospital] is down the street. I think this should be a nursing home.”

Others are jubilant about the proposal.

“It’s about time!” said local Larry Stover, 58. “It’s been abandoned for about 15 to 20 years!”

Stover had no problem with high-end real estate occupying the building: “I don’t care. It’s going to make the neighborhood better. … It’s been an eyesore for a long time.”

For Rev. Edward Smalley, 68, who blissfully recalled sitting with Father Divine and his wife Mother Divine at the Lorraine and getting a full meal for just seven cents, the building should maintain some of its heritage.

“He would want this to be multicultural,” Smalley said, looking at the group of investors visiting the building on Wednesday. “Well, there’s one black woman, that’s good. … It has to be multicultural, otherwise you might have some problems down the line.”

For Blumenfeld, a Philly native who relishes the history of North Broad Street, development is an opportunity to resurrect the block’s blighted architectural gems.

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“I never saw North Broad being about one project, but the entire corridor,” he said. “We had to prove that people would not just live on North Broad Street, but eat, shop, and come to events here.”

The other aspects of that corridor include the century-old Metropolitan Opera House at Broad and Poplar streets, which is slated to become a 10,000 square foot venue with an “edgy” vibe, Blumfeld said.

The Mural Lofts building, which already has 56 units waiting to be occupied in the former Thaddeus Stevens School of Observation at Broad and Spring Garden, is part of the vision, as is the Studebaker Building just south of the Divine Lorraine, which offers space for retail and offices.

“How this corridor blossoms involves the Metropolitan Opera House, the Studebaker Building, the Mural Arts building, and the Divine Lorraine,” Blumenfeld said. “This becomes a walking corridor, evolving into a 24/7 neighborhood.”

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