Opinion: Howard Haas’ position on the Boyd Theatre decision

The Philadelphia Historical Commission has approved almost every application for “economic hardship” by developers seeking to demolish their historic buildings but in approving Friday the application by Live Nation & iPIC to demolish almost all of the Boyd, they went farther than they ever have before because never before did they have at the Commission knowledge of an offer matching the purchase price by a would be purchaser (Friends of the Boyd) that would preserve rather than demolish the historically designated building.

Public comments by iPIC’s supporters repeatedly emphasized two issues, the first one that we can summarize as “rats, homeless, and blight.” One neighbor repeated the assertion that there are rats at the Boyd. He brought a photo on his cell phone of a dead rat on the sidewalk, which was passed around & viewed by each Commissioner. Do you demolish your house if you have a rodent problem?

As to the homeless, there are many at various times throughout Center City including in front of active businesses.

As to blight, now that we have funds to purchase the Boyd, Friends of the Boyd have already priced from a company that repairs theater marquees so that we can quickly make the Boyd’s look nice, and have begun discussing options regarding the entryway to immediately improve the appearance should we be allowed to purchase the Boyd.

iPic’s supporters’ other focus was that an iPIC would revitalize the block. Friends of the Boyd would accomplish that and more, as a magnificently restored Art Deco movie palace hosting many kinds of live shows in addition to occasional film, would bring in tourists, increase stays at local hotels and generate more business at restaurants. On the other hand, mainstream movies play everywhere in the region and “dine & drink” movie theaters are also building throughout the region. However, the Historical Commission should not be choosing between competing economic plans. They should be safeguarding our historic buildings.

One neighbor claimed expertise as he tried to prove that the historic Boyd wouldn’t be viable for Touring Broadway shows, part of our plan. He declared that Broadway producers don’t want their shows in 2000+ seat theaters . So why are those shows  in the Academy of Music and 2000+ seat former movie palaces in cities throughout the US?

The Chief Deputy City Solicitor appeared in person to advance the legal standard that should be applied but it was the wrong standard that was being asserted. If there’s a would be bona fide purchaser who would not demolish, then the applicant for demolition has not met their burden of proof. The Historical Commission should not need to examine our business plans as to how we would use the building in the future as that’s not their job. I was personally astonished by many of the questions & comments posed by Commission members but none was more perplexing than the implication that nonprofit organizations have no business saving or owning historic buildings!

By applying the wrong legal standard, and by indicating our purchase is legally insufficient to defeat the application because “no rate of return” would be had by a nonprofit or by the civic minded foundation that has made the grant commitment, the Commission’s analysis unfortantely sounded like legal gibberish.

We’ve heard from people throughout our nation who can not believe that the City would allow the Boyd’s destruction, the loss of our last premiere movie palace, the loss of its great Art Deco interior. iPIC can build elsewhere on vacant land rather than insisting on building a new multiplex that would stand behind the Boyd’s facade.

Friends of the Boyd will appeal. Thanks to all our supporters who appeared and all those who believe in real historic preservation and that the Boyd Theatre should survive for future generations- all of it, not only the front on Chestnut Street.

Howard B. Haas

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