A $76 million project to build a long-awaited community center in Philadelphia's Chinatown is moving forward.

The state of Pennsylvania announced a $1.3 million economic development grant for the Eastern Tower project, slated for the site of a parking lot at 10th and Vine streets in Center City.  

Gov. Tom Wolf made the announcement on Thursday afternoon, standing under a pagoda along 10th Street as cars and trucks rushed east and west along the Vine Street Expressway below. 

"This is going to play a key part in the redevelopment of downtown Philadelphia, my neighborhood," said Wolf, who owns an apartment two blocks away.

rendering A rendering of the Eastern Tower Community Center to be built on the north side of the Vine Street Expressway at 10th Street. (Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation)

But most of all, Chinatown boosters are hoping the project will help draw new activity to a part of the neighborhood cut off by the expressway from the more vibrant commercial corridor a few blocks south along Race and Arch streets. 

"There's a physical barrier, but there's also a mental barrier for people not wanting to cross to the other side of the expressway," said John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. "We're actually going to draw businesses to the north side with this project."

Plans for the 23-story tower include 150 rental units, space for restaurants and coffee shops, as well as a bilingual health center and recreational space, complete with basketball, badminton and volley balls courts. The Chinatown Early Learning Center is also planning to relocate there.

Chin said construction on the long-awaited project will begin before the end of the year; it's expected to be finished in two years. 

"For many people, we have to have a visual to understand what the potential is, and that's what this building is going to do," he said. "We're going to build this building, and then for-profit developers are going to follow."