$90 million Boyd project up for review

Image / ARCWheeler

Nov. 4
Editor’s note: “In The Zone” will be a periodically updated listing of large or significant zoning changes, developments, building additions or demolitions to come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

By Thomas Walsh
For PlanPhilly
Bold plans for the shuttered Boyd Theatre, recently designated an historic site by the Philadelphia Historical Commission, are up for early review by the Historical Commission (Nov. 14) and the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (Dec. 17) within the next six weeks.

At roughly $90 million, those plans include the addition of a 28-story film-themed boutique hotel by Kimpton, a company that is internationally known but has no presence in the Philadelphia area.

Developer Hal Wheeler and his ARC Wheeler group have an agreement of sale with Live Nation for the theater on the 1900 block of Chestnut Street, considered Philadelphia’s last movie palace. The project would fully restore the theater to its original Art Deco flavor, with the tower connected to the rear and joining 20th Street.

In addition to likely approval by the Historical Commission, Wheeler’s group is supported by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, which will serve as the “nonprofit partner” and assist in obtaining public and philanthropic funding. Executive Director John Gallery said that includes federal investment tax credits already lined up, but that no applications for grants have yet been submitted.

A filing with the ZBA, seeking a zoning variance and two use variances, says the hotel would have 250 units and be 320 feet high. The plans call for “partial demolition” of the structure. In particular, the “stage house” will be rebuilt – everything behind the proscenium arch of the theater, including the stage, according to Gallery.

“The rebuilding of the stage house is part of the theater and hotel,” Gallery said. “It is rebuilding the stage area in order to accommodate the types of performances that are being contemplated.”

The ZBA will also hear plans for live entertainment at the site, a restaurant, first floor meeting rooms, two floors of conference space, a fourth-floor lobby and other spaces. Rooms would be on floors five through 28.

Like all commercial real estate projects on the drawing boards, regardless of scope, Wheeler would find that getting a loan for the Boyd theater-hotel in the current frozen credit markets all but impossible. Still, Gallery said that when the time comes, there are a few characteristics of the project that give it a leg up.

“It is not a speculative hotel,” Gallery said, referring to Kimpton. “It has a real operator, real interest and real commitment.”

In addition, City Council is considering legislation that would protect historically significant interior public spaces of structures, which would be further protection for investors.

Gallery said architects Martinez & Johnson, based in Washington, D.C., are at work on the hotel portion’s details, but that the overall concept is in place. The firm has experience with restoring other historic theaters, including the Boston Opera House.

On The Web:
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants: http://www.kimptonhotels.com/index.aspx
Boyd Theatre Hotel plans (ARC Wheeler / Martinez & Johnson Architecture), via the Preservation Alliance: http://www.preservationalliance.com/advocacy/Boyd%20restoration%20and%20hotel%20addition_10%2013%2008.pdf
Martinez & Johnson: http://www.mjarchitecture.com/

Contact the reporter at tom@thomasjwalsh.info.

Previous Boyd coverage

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal