In 2005, Eric Blumenfeld sold the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street. It was one of the most lucrative moves of his career, but also one of the most haunting.
"I was completely miserable," said Blumenfeld.
He had to have it back. And so, in 2012, he did – even more determined to breathe new life into the 123-year-old building that's become one of Philadelphia biggest and most intriguing pieces of blight.
"This building has a mystique, it has a spirit unlike any other project I've ever seen," said Blumenfeld.
On Wednesday afternoon, after years of piecing together financing, Blumenfeld celebrated his dream of renovating the hulking, 10-story building during a downright giddy press conference across Broad Street.
There were hugs, fist bumps and the kind of handshakes only friends give one another.
"Two words: finally...and yes," said City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose district includes the Divine Lorraine.
Blumenfeld's company, EB Realty Management Corporation, is transforming the property into a mixed-use development that'll place 109 apartments above 20,000 square feet of retail space.
It's hoped the project will help return this struggling stretch to its former glory.
"Because of its history and because of its location, this building will transform itself from what I referred to as a billboard of blight, holding back the surrounding area, to a catalyst which will attract further investment and drive the revitalization of North Broad Street," said Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development.
Blumenfeld couldn't agree more.
"Really the success of North Broad teeters on this development," he said.
The Divine Lorraine Hotel, finished in 1894, was one of Philadelphia's first high-rises. It initially housed the nouveau riche as an apartment building, but later became the city's first integrated hotel under the leadership of the Rev. Major Jealous Divine, commonly known as Father Divine.
The property closed in 1999 and has collected quite an array of graffiti – and curious onlookers – since.
The $44 million overhaul was made possible thanks to public and private financing.
Blumenfeld partnered with real estate lender William Procida and Procida's 100 Mile Fund, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority and the Philadelphia Industrial Development. The city and state also contributed to the project.
Construction is expected to wrap up in 16 months.