The man charged with creating the greatest celebration of America ever conceived occupies Cubicle B on the seventh floor of the Philadelphia Building. The donated space is decorated with a family photo, a Ben Franklin bobblehead, and a sticker that reads: "USA250."

For now, Jon Grabelle Herrmann is the sole employee of a nonprofit that has raised more than $200,000 for an event that is a decade away from happening - one way or another.

Someone had to start the discussion about 2026, the country's semiquincentennial.

"If we're going to earn the celebration, it has to be more than just the best arts-and-entertainment event of our generation," said Herrmann, 37. "It has to be something that brings the country together and gets us on a track to make the next 250 years better than the first 250."

The dozens of Philadelphians committed to the project have expansive ideas. Like Herrmann - a Wharton grad and founding executive director of Campus Philly, which seeks to keep college grads in Philadelphia - they talk with an enthusiasm once so foreign in these parts. They envision a yearlong event - no, why not 18 months - where millions of people visit Philadelphia to renew America's values.

It is unabashedly idealistic.

"In order to make this real, it has to be tangible enough that people get behind it," said Maud Lyon, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and one of the planners. "But 10 years out, you're not going to know every single detail."

The group is convinced that a grassroots movement, later augmented by corporate and government involvement, can succeed. Philadelphia has hosted the pope, with the Democrats next, and recently became the United States' first World Heritage City. Mayor Kenney is enthusiastic about the concept.

With some momentum in 2016, organizers insist, their plan can thrive.

Or not. The lessons of the bicentennial and sesquicentennial loom.

So Herrmann and Andrew Hohns, USA250's board chairman, have started with a question: What does 2026 mean to you?

"How will you celebrate the 250th as a family?" Hohns asked. "How will you as a neighborhood? How will you as a city? As a small business, a large business, a cultural institution, a sports team, a nation? An ethnic group, a religious group? A rock band? How will each of you celebrate the 250th anniversary?"

The idea started on a boat, eight years ago in Maine's Penobscot Bay.

Hohns - once trumpeted in a 2001 Philadelphia Weekly story as "The Boy Who Would Be Mayor," but fruitless in two bids for a State House seat as a twenty-something - was relaxing with some fellow Philadelphians and lamenting the lack of outside financial interest in Philly.

The 37-year-old investment banker, who had cofounded Young Involved Philadelphia in 2000 to increase civic engagement among the city's millennials, remarked how the city could not compete on the world's stage without infrastructure improvements.

Why not use the country's 250th anniversary as a chance for Philadelphia to host a project of national unity?

That discussion took place 18 years before 2026.

Still, Hohns said, "we felt we've been behind since the very beginning."

Now they have a full-time employee (Herrmann), a new website, a fund-raiser at the Independence Visitor Center, meetings with politicians, and a reconnaissance mission to Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy.

Herrmann, with the assistance of some local historians, studied Philadelphia's complicated history of America's anniversaries.

The Centennial Exposition in 1876 was hailed as one of the greatest events in Philadelphia's history; nearly 10 million attended over six months.

Fifty years later, political boss William S. Vare had the sesquicentennial moved to the swamps of South Philadelphia. The festival was bankrupt before it even began, said Tom Keels, a local historian and author of a forthcoming book, Sesqui! Greed, Graft, and the Forgotten World's Fair of 1926.

A disappointing July 4 celebration in 1976 strained by racial tensions between residents and Mayor Frank Rizzo marred the bicentennial.

"Keeping the expectations low and being pleasantly surprised," Keels said, "might be the way to go given our past performances."

But Herrmann wants to raise those expectations, starting now. Think: a countdown clock in a signature spot, unveiled around the time of the Democratic National Convention in July. That, coupled with announcements of a few corporate partners and major events - Major League Baseball's All-Star Game? - would bring attention.

"We are starting," Herrmann said, "with zero public expectations beyond 'Don't screw it up' and 'Be careful about any use of public resources.' "

That has not stopped them from thinking big. Real big.

"If we do a third of what they're talking about," said Phillies chairman David Montgomery, "it would be a pretty spectacular year in Philadelphia."

Montgomery, an early donor, convened a December meeting with leaders from all of the city's major sports teams. They were receptive to ideas, Montgomery said.

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has previously said he is willing to host a Super Bowl at Lincoln Financial Field. Why not Super Bowl LX in 2026?

Hohns envisions a new subway line along the Delaware, or the capping of I-676 near Chinatown. A pavilion for every state to showcase itself, Intel vowing to replace the city's outdated infrastructure with topflight wireless technology, or Merck committing to the eradication of a disease by 2026.

"These ideas don't require very much more than the articulation of a long-term goal," Hohns said, "and regular measurement toward that."

What would help? Well, money.

Early donors include New York philanthropists Patricia Bauman and John Landrum Bryant, Philadelphia hospitality and entertainment mogul Avram Hornik, and the city's convention and tourism bureaus.

Hohns met last year with Kenney, who said he was intrigued by USA250's efforts.

"This event is going to be a signature event for the city," Kenney said. "We missed our chance at the 200th anniversary because of shenanigans during the Rizzo administration. . . . Philadelphia should be the centerpiece of this celebration."

Herrmann said it was "ambitious and achievable" to have at least 10 million more visitors over an 18-month period than what Philadelphia typically attracts. But everything is guesswork in the brainstorming stage.

"People have to decide: 'What is the story we want to tell through USA250?' " said Meryl Levitz, president of Visit Philadelphia. "Without that, you have a series of seemingly unrelated events."

For now, those at USA250 just want people to think about 2026. Philadelphia, Herrmann said, can plan a celebration on its own terms. "It's exciting," he said, "to see it grow from a cubicle."

215-854-2928 @MattGelb