UPDATED: The Imperative Divine Lorraine

UPDATED:  After Mayor Nutter announced the city‘s renewed commitment to seeing the Divine Lorraine redeveloped, the Inquirer reports that unnamed local developers have secured an option on the Divine Lorraine. A deal could be made within weeks. The Divine Lorraine’s current owners defaulted on a construction loan, and their lender, Amalgamated Bank of New York, is interested in seeing the property developed. Plus, the owners owe the city $702,779.82 in back taxes. So if the deal falls through, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger suggested that the city could use eminent domain to condemn the property or offer it at sheriff’s sale.

The Divine Lorraine is one of our city’s most photographed ruins, most romanticized relics, and among our most widely visible icons of blight. Now imagine what it would mean to bring this building back from the dead.

On Monday, Mayor Nutter promised renewed action in partnership with City Council President Darrell Clarke to “transform the Divine Lorraine,” in his speech to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Even as North Broad bubbles with hotspots of residential and institutional development, alongside new restaurants and planned public space improvements, the Divine Lorraine lords over the intersection of Fairmount, Broad and Ridge like dead weight, an impediment to all of the positive progress.

Divine Lorraine | Flickr user garyreed, Eyes on the Street Flickr group
(Divine Lorraine | Flickr user garyreed, Eyes on the Street Flickr group)

On Monday, Mayor Nutter put the problem this way: North Broad Street has an incredible diversity of people, interests, uses and possibilities. We’re going to do this right, and we need your help. Part of this strategy is to identify where we can work together, and where the government can also spur growth and development. And I have just the place to start: we are actively pursuing opportunities to transform the Divine Lorraine.

It is an historical monument and a keystone to our redevelopment of North Philadelphia. As I speak, there is renewed interest in the Divine Lorraine with my team—and City Council President Clarke—directly involved in the rebirth of this great Philadelphia building. Back in October, an Inquirer article about revitalization on North Broad Street mentioned that the city is putting pressure on the Divine Lorraine’s owners, who then owed $676,692.04 in real estate taxes. At the time Mayor Nutter said, “We’re trying to get the attention of the building owners before we take action ourselves.” And he noted that the Divine Lorraine is the “tipping point for North Broad.”

The Divine Lorraine has been officially vacant since 2000 and its owners, a conglomerate including a Dutch company with no U.S. office, have shown little initiative. A deal to redevelop the Divine Lorraine (and the large vacant lot behind it) fell through last year despite promises of state tax credits and Community Development Block Grant funding from the city. Meanwhile the building suffers from neglect and the occasional squatter’s fire.

So while it’s not news that Mayor Nutter has the Divine Lorraine on the mind, it’s clear he’s ready to place the Divine Lorraine on the front burner for his term. So is Darrell Clarke, who told the Inquirer, “I think realistically, by the middle of the year, we should have a deal on the table with a developer.”


See this piece from The PhillyHistory Blog on The Divine Lorraine Hotel for history of the building [March 26, 2007]

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal