The portion of North Broad Street which runs along side the Spring Garden neighborhood now hosts a business district with a variety of restaurants and residential properties. The addition of these establishments within the last decade has transformed the streetscape.
The idea of revitalizing North Broad Street was initially proposed by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission in 2005. The commission devised its Extending the Vision for North Broad Street plan which included proposals for the Spring Garden section of the street.
“There were a whole bunch of recommendations such as promoting high-density development on key sites and reinforcing the gateway image of Broad and Spring Garden Streets as people approach Center City and also go into North Philadelphia,” said Gary Jastrzab, executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. “It’s a public investment in public open space that we hoped would give confidence to owners and business operators to do more development and open new businesses.”
The first major addition to North Broad Street came in 2006. Real estate developer Eric Blumenfeld and his company EB Realty purchased a vacant pharmaceutical factory at 640 N. Broad St. and converted it into an apartment complex. EB Realty Regional Property Manager Ed Casella said he believes the establishment of this complex, Lofts 640, was part of a plan to expand North Broad Street in the neighborhood.
“Lofts 640 really came to be out of an idea that Eric Blumenfeld had of making North Broad Street parallel to South Broad Street and creating a renaissance in the neighborhood which is actively still going on,” Casella said. “That’s essentially the vision that our company has been working with over the last close to a decade now for the North Broad Corridor.”
The first restaurant to open on the street was founded in the same building as Lofts 640. The Northern Italian eatery Osteria was created by restaurateur Marc Vetri who runs three other restaurants in the city. One of Vetri’s other restaurants called Alla Spina is located just off North Broad Street on Mount Vernon Street.
Restaurateur Stephen Starr entered Spring Garden in late 2011. He opened a seafood restaurant called Route 6 on 600 N. Broad St. The business shares a building with an event venue which was also launched in 2011 called Vie. The 17,000-square-foot space was the brainchild of Joe Volpe, chief executive officer of Cescaphe Event Group.
The developers of these companies were able to bring traffic to North Broad Street due to their esteem in the restaurant and business worlds.
“We’re right in the wedding world,” Volpe said. “We were able to bring a lot of the brides who didn’t know about the space to the space just from knowing about us. We were able to book close to 80 weddings during the construction period.”
The revival of North Broad Street in Spring Garden calls into question whether the residential portion of the neighborhood is being altered by this growth. Ed Casella said he believes Spring Garden is the same neighborhood it was before the renovation of the street.
“The gentrification of the North Broad corridor is felt to have a more Center City feeling but the neighborhoods are totally different,” Casella said. “It’s good to have different segments of neighborhoods because every neighborhood offers different people, different things and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
North Broad Street has seen most of its renewal in the past decade, but Spring Garden has been transforming for much longer. Spring Garden Civic Association board member Patricia Freeland said she believes the neighborhood started to see an incline years before the North Broad Street corridor began to develop.
“Our organization has been developing the eastern end of the neighborhood. We started building the 1600 block of North Street in 2002,” Freeland said. “The realtors wouldn’t even come here. Nobody was really thinking much about this area. So then we built them and they were beautiful and then everybody and his brother wanted to build here.”
North Broad Street is not finished with its evolution. Real estate developer Bart Blatstein proposed to introduce a casino on the 400 block of North Broad Street inside the Elverson building, the former offices of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. Eric Blumenfeld recently purchased the Divine Lorraine Hotel at 699 N. Broad St. and plans to renovate the building.
“We’ve been working really closely with the Divine Lorraine,” said Jeremy Thomas of the Philadelphia Department of Commerce. “One of the reasons for that is if you look at where it sits and simply the height of it, it’s a blighting influence on the neighborhood.
Although the renovations of the North Broad Street corridor have been a work in progress for some time, its future is becoming a promising one for the city.
“We really feel like there are a lot of positives in development in North Broad,” Thomas said. “We feel very strongly that’s going to continue.”