North Broad neighbors worry they will be pushed out by Divine Lorraine project
October 25, 2012By Elizabeth Fiedler
A Philadelphia developer's ideas for the area around the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street are much bigger than just the historic building he's renovating. The map of big dreams stretches across and around the old hotel: covering four blocks along Broad Street. (See map below.) Some current residents are wondering why their buildings aren't on the map.
Imagine looking at a map of the block you live on — and not seeing your home. Instead, the map shows a new building.
"I first saw that drawing last Thursday. When I saw that my house was obliterated — that I was not expecting at all and that was quite a shock," said Susan Crawshaw.
Sitting on the porch of her lovingly-renovated home, looking out over her garden, Crawshaw talks about what she thought when she saw the map — which shows a Shared Visual Arts Complex where she is now. There are some trees sketched in, Crawshaw points out, and she wonders if they'd keep her fig and cherry trees.
"When you think there's a designer or an architect or an architect's assistant sitting somewhere pointing out plans for your block on his or her CAD system and then hovering the cursor over your building and then hitting click and then — poof — your building doesn't exist anymore — and you had no idea," said Crawshaw. "You know you're just a dismissible detail on somebody's plan. It's just weird."
Crawshaw says she has not spoken with the city or the developer's office but she has talked to other neighborhood residents.
Just a few minutes walk away, two more building owners are worrying. Tina Rocha and her husband run the Cerulean Arts Gallery and Studio on Ridge Avenue — right across from a former homeless shelter.
"We have homemade decorative arts," said Rocha. "So jewelry, vases, baskets, we have local artists, fair trade companies, something for everyone."
Rocha says the pair poured themselves into renovating this place.
"We thought the neighborhood had so much potential. So we wanted to be part of a community that is seeing its re-birth."
Rocha, who works at an architecture firm, says the couple knew it would take time for their gallery and the neighborhood to grow. What they didn't expect was seeing a map of the area that appears to no longer include their building. She points to the map that doesn't show her building, "We're right in the Commons. So we're right smack in the middle of the block here."
Rocha says she's not sure what to do now.
Nothing decided yet
The developer behind the map is Eric Blumenfeld, who's also sharing his ideas for renovating the Divine Lorraine Hotel up the street.
"My job is to make things up and look at them as ideas — not as hard plans," said Blumenfeld.
Blumenfeld says he's been talking to the community and will reach out to more people in the neighborhood for their input and ideas. But first he sketched out his dream plan, ignoring potential obstacles.
"And when you use your imagination you kind of don't live with real barriers," he said. "You just pretend you have total access to everything. And then it has to get refined. So neighborhood and community development is a process."
Members of the local community group the West Poplar Community Development Corporation, which covers the area, say they're waiting to hear more.
"The city will let him know he'll have to come to us in due time," said CDC Board member Jeffrey Saunders sitting in a neighborhood church. "There's no sense in him, frankly, wasting his time and ours coming in to us with something that's too preliminary. He's got to figure out what it is that he wants to do and how he wants to put it together. First he's got to get his hands around various cost factors and so on."
Saunders says of course he's not sure what's happening behind the scenes or how quickly things could develop.
"If your game plan involves putting facilities in places where somebody currently has their house or somebody else currently has their business, I can see how that could be pretty upsetting to them," said Saunders. "If nobody came and talking to them."
Susan Crawshaw says she understands sometimes developers throw out big ideas, then whittle it down. If that's what's happening now she says, OK, but in the meantime it's been pretty stressful for people here — whose homes and businesses aren't on the map.
Correction: A previous version of the map below erroneously indicated that the Congregation Rodeph Shalom was within the area to be affected by Eric Blumenfeld's development plan. The synagogue is not part of the plan. The map has been corrected to indicate this. We regret the error.