After 16 years, countless design proposals, years of fundraising, and navigating plenty hiccups along the way, Chinatown has officially and finally broken ground on the Eastern Tower Community Center at 10th and Vine.
The project is a $75 million venture that will bring 150 apartments to the site, as well as office, commercial, and retail space. But most importantly, it will include a community and recreation center, the first for the Chinatown neighborhood.
“It is in the community and for the community,” said Margaret Chin, chairwoman of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC).
The Friday groundbreaking ceremony was a display of Chinese culture, with dragon dances by the Philadelphia Suns and fireworks that shot off at the site of the future tower. But the ceremony was ultimately a celebration for the community, which has been working since, really, the 1990s to get this project going.
Talk to anyone involved in this project over the years and they’ll tell you, with an air of exasperation or relief, that there’s been a lot of touch-and-go moments since conceptual design phase began in 2001. After many delayed groundbreaking dates, it got to the point where many began to wonder if the project would ever happen at all.
“Every single bump in the road you can possibly have on a project, it had,” said Michael O’Brien, a state representative who’s been involved in the project from the early stages. “But this community never gave up.”
Thee initial project concept started out as a place for the Chinatown community to gather and for the Philadelphia Suns to practice. John Chin of PCDC and Ahsan Nratullah of JNA Capital started a grass-roots fundraising campaign for the project, garnering funding from all levels of government, including federal, state, and city, as well private donations from equity groups and the Chinatown community.
In addition, the parking lot at 10th and Vine was purchased from the city’s Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, adding even more paperwork to the process. Said PRA’s executive director Greg Heller, “This is one of the most complicated projects in Philadelphia.”
It wasn’t until PCDC secured a $22.5 million construction loan from Citizens Bank in late August that general contractor Hunter Roberts was given the green light to begin construction.
With work now officially underway, construction is expected to take 26 months. When the tower opens in 2019, it will serve as a bookend to the 10th Street commercial corridor, which starts at Chinatown’s Friendship Gate at Arch Street.
Two commercial tenants have already been secured for the tower’s ground level: Chinatown Learning Center has signed on as a bilingual preschool and pre-kindergarten program and a new restaurant will also set up shop.
Perhaps Chin said it best Friday afternoon: “This has been a long-awaited dream of Chinatown. It’s not a dream anymore.”