By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Weeks after US Airways voiced skepticism about the plan to expand Philadelphia International Airport (see previous story), Mayor Nutter today reaffirmed the city’s commitment to the massive project.
Speaking to hundreds of the region’s business leaders at the Center City Sheraton, Mayor Nutter said the long-planned airport expansion is sorely needed if the airport is to continue as, in his words, “an economic engine.”
Nutter alluded to US Airways, which last month openly questioned the need for a new runway, and the mayor extended an olive branch.
“We are seeking to do what is in the best long-term interest of the city, the region, our citizens, our travelers, and our airline partners. It’s a big project, but by working together, we’re going to get it done, and done right,” the mayor told the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce lunch meeting.
The airlines would have to foot a hefty portion of the bill for the new runway, which is one portion of the entire $6.4-billion project.
During his speech today, Nutter also hinted that he will be soon be looking to the business community to do more to help the cash-strapped Philadelphia School District.
Nutter praised the school district, despite its financial woes, for having made “great strides.” And he thanked the business community for various ways that firms have suppported the struggling school system.
But Nutter indicated that he’ll need more.
“There will come a time when I will need to ask for greater support and assistance from this business community, but only when a specific plan is developed with defined goals and deliverables,” he said.
Nutter said the SRC and school district management will first have to present a turnaround plan that is broadly supported.
The district is trying to close a $61-million deficit and faces more red ink in the coming fiscal year.
In addition, the mayor today hinted that there could be a new chapter in the long and sad tale of the old Divine Lorraine Hotel, on North Broad Street at Ridge Avenue.
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The Divine Lorraine dates from the late 19th century, and in its prime was a grand destination north of City Hall.
But the building has been shuttered for more than a decade, and the most recent attempt to turn it into condominium apartments fell through two years ago.
Today, though, Mayor Nutter said efforts to develop it are picking up:
“As I speak, there is renewed interest in the Divine Lorraine with my team — and City Council president (Darrell) Clarke — directly involved in the rebirth of this great Philadelphia building.”
Pressed later by reporters for details, Nutter would say only that he’s in touch with the bank that owns the Divine Lorraine and they’re trying to “sort through” a complicated financial situation in order to spur its development.