From the expansion of the Bynum Brothers restaurant dominion with Green Soul this month to recent developments at Temple University, the North Broad Street corridor is, arguably, the best place in Philadelphia in which to watch an explosion of commerce.
No one, however, is a greater detonator there than Philly developer Eric Blumenfeld. The Divine Lorraine project set for early 2019, and the corner of Broad and Spring Garden now titled the skyscraping Mural West tower are but two of his upcoming developments of major note. Yet, the jewel in his crown, and that of Philly’s Live Nation entertainment promoters, is the conversion of the Metropolitan Opera House building into a state-of-the-art concert venue, The Met.
Co-owned by Blumenfeld, and Rev. Mark Hatcher of the Holy Ghost Church, (its most recent inhabitant), The Met – built by Broadway impresario Oscar Hammerstein I in 1908 – is, in the words of Geoff Gordon, regional president of Live Nation, “a world-class opera house that we have made come alive once more.” Gordon and Live Nation have a lease and operating deal with Blumenfeld’s EB Realty Group, and the costs of turning The Met’s block-long space at Broad and Polar, into something “state-of-the-art while retaining original amenities, moldings, balconies, and such; taking the bones and beauty of an opera house and mixes in the contemporary ancillary stuff” (noted Blumenfeld) is running just south of $56 million.
“For the last 10-to-12 years, I’ve challenged our team to find new opportunities and create fresh experiences, whether it’s The Roots Picnic, the Made in America fest with Jay-Z, or the more recent likes of The Fillmore and Punch Line,” said Gordon. Size and spectrum was no object when it came to adding to Live Nation’s portfolio of existing vertical event spaces. And Gordon had been having conversations with Reverend Hatcher about developing the 4,000 capacity theater. Having Blumenfeld get on board, and buy into Hatcher’s dream space, just made the dream more real and immediate.
“We develop talent, Eric develops properties – it happened,” said Gordon. “Look, this gem was supposed to get hit with a wrecking ball twice. Regardless of whatever music, theater or comedy we put there – Dylan, Legend, Trevor Noah John Oliver, Bill and Hillary Clinton– to not allow The Met to be revitalized and reborn, would’ve been a crime. An opera house such as this was built to wrap around and enhance the sound and audience experience, and The Met does this and more. We’re humbled by this. It’s that spectacular.”
As he’s installing seats for The Met (“ready by Friday”), Blumenfeld finds the re-awakening of The Met and further expansion of North Broad – like Gordon – a matter of positive inclusion, and something that opens up a long ignored corridor of the city. “Tax breaks will be created because of this,” noted Blumenfeld. “Smiles will be created. Newer restaurants, housing and other businesses will come… So will jobs”
Blumenfeld is quick to include Reverend Hatcher as part of The Met’s through-line (“we must be the only venue in the world that has Bob Dylan on Monday, and a church on Sunday” regarding Sunday services starting Dec. 9, along with a series of holiday masses) and the development of North Broad.
“Look, I’ve been developing this block for the last 15 years, and it has always been a stretch. Nobody believe me that anything North Broad could work, starting with 640 North, and 500,000 square feet. Who’s going to go there? Then Marc Vetri won the James Beard Award the year he got into Osteria, then people got curious. From there, it’s been connect the dots, and we wind up at The Met, the gem. And we’re only going to go further North, and sooner than later.” Gordon counters with the fact that, finally, North Broad and South Broad are “equal entities, with equal reasons to be proud.”
Blumenfled recalls the 2007 book by Philly journalist Bruce Buschel, “Walking Broad: Looking for the Heart of Brotherly Love,” that talked of North Broad’s blight, plight, hookers and drug dealers.
“Then he wrote of this kid, Blumenfeld, who will be bankrupt at the end of the day” for me having invested big time,” said Eric with a laugh. “Connecting those dots – the Divine Lorraine, the Thaddeus Stevens Building the Studebaker Building, this opera house – is my honor. You don’t want to screw all that up, and you have to get people like Geoff, to believe in you. Even then, you have to beg and borrow every cent. It’s a block by block challenge. One day though, it’ll be easier.”
As The Met Philadelphia prepares for its inaugural concert on Monday, December 3, the venue will hold a job fair at The View (800 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia) on Friday, Oct. 26 from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. and Saturday, October 27 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Interested applicants should apply online at http://themetphilly.com/jobs prior to attending the job fair or bring a copy of their resume, along with two forms of identification to the job fair.
The Met is seeking to fill positions for event staff, ticket takers, security, box office, VIP hosts, event cleaning, porters, supervisors, and superintendents. The Met’s food and beverage partner, Brûlée is seeking to hire bar tenders, bar porters, wait staff, runners, and utility workers.