A few weeks ago, a petition made the Internet rounds and garnered much local attention. Philadelphia resident and executive director at The Philadelphia Salon, Caryn Kunkle, went public with her idea to take the continuously ignored Divine Lorraine and turn it into a contemporary modern art space. It read:
“Since this 4 acre lot is the only one of its kind available for development in any Center City district on the East Coast I propose a city-uniting project! Rather than condos which will be impossible to make profit from due to the crippling costs of repairing The Divine Lorraine: declare eminent domain on the land, allow us to purchase the property and implement my idea for PIMOCA.” [see full petition here]
Her argument was that the building continues to sit with no active progress since Philadelphia developer Eric Blumenfeld purchased it a few years earlier. By claiming eminent domain, she has dreams of transforming the space into a community art venue. PIMOCA, Philadelphia Interactive Museum of Contemporary Art, would be a central hub for everything art-centric in the region. Kunkle believes that by creating this space, it wouldn’t just be a connector for the art community but would influence the neighborhood folks in a more positive way than Blumenfeld’s plan to turn the building into new condominiums. Her hopes were to "sustain and maintain a beautiful part of history" while giving back to the community.
Despite Eric Blumenfeld’s wide-eyed proposal to transform North Broad Street, beginning with the dilapidated historical landmark that resides on Fairmount and Broad streets, the high interest that first surrounded the project began to lessen. Having not spoken on the matter publicly since 2012, community members started to question the integrity of his project and how certain it was. In light of Kunkle’s proposal, I reached out to Blumenfeld for comment.
“I’m shocked this is news,” said Eric from inside of his South Street Headhouse District office. “Everything is going as planned.” If you’ve been seeking out Eric for the last year or so, he’s been dealing with a matter in the courtroom. The situation is between himself and a previous business/management partner, Ronald Caplan, over a defaulted loan in relation to the Marine Club condominium complex, which was previously owned by Bluemenfeld. Eric also lost his developer father, Jack Blumenfeld, in August of 2012, and went through a divorce. The case is simmering down and all of the Divine Lorraine project’s funding is coming in to play, so you can bet that 2014 is a year we start to see some progress.
Let’s also not forget about the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House – the building will also recieve some attention in 2014. Eric mentioned that he's known Kunkle for some time and originally offered her a fixed amount of square footage inside of the Met to facilitate her artistic endeavors. In the end, Caryn did not settle and went on to create the petition, which currently has over 600 supporters.
Despite Kunkle's high passion for her intriguing project, a lack of formal business plan has unfortunately set this project behind. Blumenfeld is confidently moving forward with the original plans for the Divine Lorraine and the rest of his North Broad Street endeavors.