The Historical Commission’s Committee on Financial Hardship waded into the raw-nerved case of the Boyd Theatre’s Future, Part II, Thursday.
In continuing a hearing that ran out the clock on Jan. 28, chair Sam Sherman and committee members Sara Merriman, Dominque Hawkins, JoAnn Jones and Robert Thomas carefully and almost solemnly weighed the merits of a decision that would profoundly impact the now-decrepit but once glorious 2,300-seat movie house which was built in 1928.
And in the end, the majority of committee members voted to accept the applicants request for hardship.
The extended hearing (full video can be seen below) once again brought together finance and construction experts who say the structure cannot be reasonably reused in its state of neglect, historic preservationists who argue that the hardship argument is full of holes and jurisdictionally problematic for the commission, local business owners who cite the negative impact the building’s blight reflects on the neighborhood, and Friends of the Boyd leader Howard Haas, who says he has found a new angel, an anonymous local foundation, that vows to keep the Art Deco palace viable.
John Gallery, former Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, kicked off the proceedings by reminding the committee of its jurisdictional limits and summarized his view of the hardship application this way: The financial hardship application is, at best, incomplete; it does not show that the sale of the building is impracticable; it does not show that the building cannot be feasinbly adapted to other uses.
After hours of back and forth testimony that challenged the preservationists’ stance and centered on the role of the Historical Commission in deciding whether there is a financially viable adaptive reuse for the Boyd building, the advisory committee, citing its obligation to due process for the applicant (forcefully represented by Matthew McClure of Ballard Spahr), passed the recommendation onto the Historical Commission as a whole, which meets March 14. It should be noted the Historical Commisssion only has jurisdiction in matters concerning the historic exterior of this Boyd Theatre.
The $4.5 million offer from an anonymous local foundation was vouched for as real by the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and comes at the same time that an approved hardship request would pave the way for developers to raze most of the historic movie palace
making way for a boutique eight-screen movie theater that would be operated by iPic Entertainment.
Financial hardship means that no owner can reasonably adapt or reuse the property. Plus, to justify demolition based on financial hardship the Historical Commission must be convinced that sale of property “is impracticable, that commercial rental cannot yield a reasonable rate of return, and that other potential uses are foreclosed.”
The core question before the Commission is: Can the Boyd be adapted or reused (regardless of owner)? ust how the full Historical Commission will consider the new offer remains to be seen.
A consultant report
prepared as part of this hardship application could not find a way for the Boyd to be profitable without public subsidy. But, Haas said, if the acquisition and rehabilitation costs could be fully covered by others, Friends of the Boyd believes the theater could actually operate in the black.
BOYD REDEVELOPMENT TIMELINE
May 2002 – March 2003: Goldenberg Development Corporation explored reuse strategies (concert venue, dinner theater, special event space, offices and classrooms for the Pennsylvania Ballet).
September 2003: Goldenberg and Clear Channel announce partnership to restore the Boyd as a theater for first-run Broadway touring productions. Goldenberg was unable to secure public funding toward this project.
March 31, 2005: Goldenberg sold the Boyd to Boyd Development LP, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, then Live Nation. Live Nation continued the attempted redevelopment of the Boyd as a theater for touring Broadway shows. Live Nation, however, sold its theatrical division, stalling out on redeveloping the Boyd.
August 2008: Historical Commission votes to list the Boyd in the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.
August 2008 – January 2010: Hal Wheeler of ARCWheeler advanced redevelopment strategy which would have preserved the Boyd and added a 28- story, 250-room hotel on the adjoining lot that would have cantilevered over the Boyd’s auditorium. Hal Wheeler passed away in January 2010.
2010: Live Nation considered renovating the Boyd into a 2,200-capacity standing general admission live entertainment venue for touring live music acts. Live Nation determined it could not justify the rehabilitiaton in light of anticipated revenues.
January – April 2011: 1910 Chestnut LP advanced a mixed-use redevelopment plan, but the group was not able to secure investment partners or finalize the development plan.
October 2012: Live Nation and International Finance Company (as R Investment Nine LP) entered into agreement of sale for the Boyd. R Investment Nine has a ground lease agreement with 30 West Pershing LLC which has sub-groundleased with iPic. R Investment Nine is the project developer and owner; iPic would be the tenant and operator. The current proposal is to construct an eight-screen movie theater behind the Chestnut Street facade and headhouse.
January-February 2014: Committee on Financial Hardship accepts Boyd owner’s application for hardship.
Source: RES Report 1/16/14