Linda Richardson, executive director of the Uptown Entertainment and Development Corp., hopes the wait won't be much longer.
Richardson's group has raised $3 million to buy the theater and expects to begin the first phase of renovating its office tower this summer. The tower will house the Uptown corporation's offices and a number of youth arts-education programs.
But the development group still needs to raise $5 million to completely renovate the theater, built in 1929.
For nearly three decades, the art-deco theater was Philadelphia's answer to New York's Apollo Theater in Harlem.
"Anyone who was anybody in rhythm-and-blues performed at the Uptown," Richardson said.
As Temple University has generated development along Broad, Richardson said, the Uptown is key to the area's economic revival.
"The Uptown project was the anchor project used to define the development of the Avenue of Arts north from City Hall all the way to Glenwood Avenue," added Aissia Richardson, Linda Richardson's daughter, president of the African-American United Fund.
Linda Richardson said the recent arrival of Scott's foundation is a spark that can only create more buzz for the block.
"It was part of the vision for this block to be a cultural mecca and extend the cultural diversity of the Avenue of the Arts," Richardson said.
As North Philadelphia primes for renewal, she said it is important for African-American cultural institutions - including the African-American United Fund, its conference center, the Philadelphia Doll Museum and the Uptown - to hold their ground.
Winfield said nearly every Philadelphian she meets, even youngsters at Scott's summer camps, seems to have an Uptown story.
"Either they saw Michael Jackson or someone in their family used to go there," Winfield said.
The theater has been vacant for years, but new businesses began coming to the block in the past 15 years.
On the west side of Broad, next to the Uptown, a steady stream of customers come and go into food shops, a phone store, a nail salon and two barbershops.
State Rep. Jewell Williams, with a district office on the block, said the Uptown's renewal is "past due.
"Just as we have all the new businesses and theaters on South Broad Street, in all fairness, it should be the same in the northern part of our city," he said.
Williams said that when John Bowser teamed with Willard Rouse to try to reopen the Uptown in the 1980s, residents feared gentrification.
They recalled that Temple's expansion in the 1950s forced people from homes on the east side of Broad to the west side.
"The community fought Bowser and Willard Rouse," Williams said. "People were afraid they would be moved [again] and they never supported the concept."
But now, people are more organized, he said, and they have seen new housing developed for low- and moderate-income residents.
Santos Ortiz, a barber at Hijaaz Barber Shop, a few doors south of the Uptown, is skeptical, however, noting that there has long been talk of reopening the theater. "We'll believe it when we see it," he said.