Hollywood Ending For Boyd Looks Unlikely As Case Goes Before Hardship Committee Tomorrow

 

Boyd Theater exterior | Photo: Peter Woodall

Boyd Theater exterior | Photo: Peter Woodall

A developer’s application to demolish most of the Boyd Theater to create a modern high-end cineplex will be reviewed by the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s Committee on Financial Hardship Tuesday morning.

Live Nation Worldwide, the owner of the historically designated movie palace at 1910 Chestnut Street, contends that restoring the auditorium and lobby are financially unviable. If given approval, theater chain iPic-Gold Class Entertainment will construct eight movie screens and an Italian restaurant behind the theater’s restored façade and headhouse. Through the arrangement with Live Nation, developer Neal Rodin would acquire the property and lease it to iPic.

The hardship application is moving forward after a third-party consultant, Paoli-based Real Estate Strategies (RES), submitted its findings to the Historical Commission.

Live Nation’s application includes a report by EConsult examining three possible reuses of the building: as a single-screen movie theater, a Broadway-style venue, and a live music/concert hall. The estimated costs for each were found to be prohibitively expensive and not likely to yield a net profit.

RES’ report largely concurs with EConsult’s findings while expanding on other potential modes of reuse, concluding that the Boyd cannot be redeveloped as a whole without “significant public subsidies,” president Margaret B. Sowell wrote.

“From a development perspective, the reuse potential of the Boyd is adversely affected by a number of factors,” she wrote, chief among them the deterioration of the building and the theater’s limited frontage on an underperforming block.

The RES report also examines turning the auditorium into a retail outlet and a combined movie theater and restaurant space, but estimates for that to be profitable, a tenant would need to sign a triple-net lease of at least $120 per square foot. In comparison, the recent lease agreement for Nordstrom Rack to use the Bonwit Teller Building at 17th and Chestnut–formerly occupied by Daffy’s–was just $50 per square foot.

Additionally, the report makes reference to an interested developer, 1910 Chestnut LP, who pursued redevelopment of the Boyd in 2011 claiming there was a feasible way to restore it, but the individual behind the project refused to identify himself or disclose specifics to RES, Sowell wrote.

The independent review of hardship cases stems from a settlement the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia made with the PHC in 2011. The settlement allowed for the demolition of the mid-century Sidney Hillman Medical Center–two blocks from the Boyd–for a high-rise apartment building.

After the Committee on Financial Hardship votes on a recommendation on whether to allow demolition, the full Historical Commission will vote on final approval of the project. The next scheduled meeting is Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14.

The PHC’s Architectural Committee will also meet tomorrow to review the proposed design for the new development, independent of the hardship case. Local architectural firm SPG3 is overseeing the design.

Boyd Theater interior | Photo: Chandra Lampreich

Boyd Theater interior | Photo: Chandra Lampreich

Caroline Boyce, the Preservation Alliance’s executive director, said she would address what she called “holes” in the hardship case.

“Our point of view is that the hardship application needs to reach the threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “We are continuing the process of reviewing the application and the consultant’s report as we believe it has some weaknesses, and we’ll be addressing those at the meeting.”

While Boyce declined to discuss specifics, Howard Haas, president of Friends of the Boyd, was more forthcoming in what he called an “insufficient” case for passing the hardship test.

One contention Haas cited was Live Nation’s RFP in 2008, which excluded live music concerts at the venue for seven years. “By making that a condition of sale, it precluded one of its possible uses,” he said, limiting potential interest, while noting that many classic movie palaces have been reborn precisely in this manner.

Developer Hal Wheeler was the only party to submit a bid to that RFP, and was attempting to secure public funds for his project before dying suddenly of heart failure in January 2010. Wheeler proposed erecting a hotel next to the theater and turning the theater itself into an entertainment and conference venue–though the project would have entailed the demolition of the theater’s stagehouse, which was deemed not significant by the Historical Commission. Live Nation did enter into a seven-year agreement for up to 60 live entertainment shows per year, according to the application, but the project terminated upon Wheeler’s death.

Haas also took issue with Live Nation’s claim, stated in the hardship application, that the company explored restoring the theater after Wheeler’s passing but “could not justify the rehabilitation costs in light of the revenues.” Haas called this claim unsubstantiated as it did not include any further details. (RES also acknowledges a lack of analysis on this particular claim in its report.)

While the owners have been responsive to some maintenance issues like snow removal and securing locks, he said, they had not been open enough with Friends of the Boyd in pursuing a sincere redevelopment plan for it, including a potential private-public partnership to make use of fundraising and subsidies.

Haas acknowledged meeting with the anonymous developer cited in RES’ report, referring to him as a “very interested party,” but said a confidentiality agreement prevented him from further discussing the matter.

The argument from iPic, meanwhile, is that all viable alternatives for reuse have been explored and that the current proposal represents the last and best chance to revitalize the Boyd and increase activity on a blighted Center City block. Supporters are counting among their ranks the Rittenhouse Row Business Association and Greater Philadelphia Film Office director Sharon Pinkenson, as well as near neighbors who don’t want the block to remain blighted and desire a modern movie screen.

In response to these concerns, Haas said, “We agree with them: we don’t want the Boyd sitting vacant any more than they do, but we believe it needs to come back to life sooner rather than later.” He added that they welcomed a mainstream theater, but not at the Boyd’s location.

Although iPic has not disclosed its budget for the new development, CEO Hamid Hashemi told Hidden City in November, “We are a commercial business, so we need to operate on a model that gives us a return on our expenses.”

Hashemi added that his company’s proposal was the only feasible option for private development that did not result in the Boyd’s complete demolition.

“It’s been vacant for 12 years, lots of people have looked at it,” he said. “We weren’t the first to look, but hopefully we’re the last. If we walk away from this, what’s going to happen? Someone else will come along and tear the whole thing down. What we’re doing is restoring the spirit of the original theater.”

The Committee on Financial Hardship will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, January 28 at 1515 Arch Street, Room 18-029. Later, the Architectural Committee will meet in Room 578 of City Hall. The architectural meeting begins at 1PM, with the Boyd on the agenda for discussion at 3:45PM.

About the author

Christopher Mote covers stories of preservation, planning, zoning and development. He lives in South Philadelphia and has a special fondness for brownstone churches and mansard roofs.



8 Comments


  1. The Boyd Theater — our city’s last, grand art-deco movie palace — is a treasure that belongs to all Philadelphians now and in the future. Every major city in this country, and many small towns, have formed public/private partnerships to save and restore at least one (and sometimes several) of their movie palaces with great economic benefit to all around it.

    If you want to see this gorgeous theater saved — you see the photos of the amazing interior that has survived for 85 years — you must attend the hearing today at 9am at 1515 Arch St, 18th floor. Those who arrive early enough, may be given a Save the Boyd tshirt to wear at the hearing, so supporters are visibly represented.

    Call in sick to work this morning, if you have to, then have a miraculous recovery at 11am when the first hearing ends. But do what you can to stand up to save this treasure that belongs to us, our children, and their children.

    iPic can pick somewhere else. A live performance theater — with musicals, concerts, maybe a Cirque de Soleil show would provide far more high-paying jobs than a movie multiplex. A theater would bring audiences and tourists who would support the restaurants and bars surrounding the theater, not serve all their needs in one space.

    Do you really want to watch a film with waiters coming and going and taking orders during a film? Do you think this fad for $24 reserved seat movies will last more than a few years? You can find such theaters, increasingly, in every suburban mall. Do you want your last, gorgeous movie palace destroyed and rebuilt as a big brick box multiplex?

    If not, come to the meeting. And send an email of support asap to Michael.nutter@phila.gov

    The committee will take several weeks to reach their decision — let’s pray for a Hail Mary intervention by our city for a project that will create a huge amount of jobs, unlike the multiplex, for carpenters, electricians, stagehands, box office, house managers, actors, singers, dancers, musicians, and more; not just during construction but for many, many years to come.

    We have just come out of the country’s worst recession ever — some say we’re not out of it yet. Don’t allow this irreversible destruction to occur simply because of bad time, and bad marketing, and a lack of support supplied by every other major city in this country.

    Are we not as good as Pittsburgh? They’ve stepped in and saved three of their grand movie palaces — and they are all profitable venues.

    See you there!! It’s your movie palace, too. We’ve thrown away and demolished all the rest — now help save the Boyd.

    • Not many people know that Live Nation has a restriction in the deed that prevents anyone from putting any concerts in the bldg. for seven years. There is no demand for a live performance theatre in this city—the theatres on Broad St. are going broke.
      A state of the art movie theatre is the ONLY hope to save the bldg.

    • A landmark a week?

      This cannot happen. Can’t we get Dorrance Hamilton to write a check? How can anyone who owns a building at this address qualify for any kind of hardship, seriously?

  2. LA Rose has nothing to offer as far as to saving the Boyd’s is concerned. For one thing, he does not own the property and he is infringing upon the rights of the lawful owner of the Boyds. Bottom line, if the developer cannot demolish the back of the Boyds while preserving the front, another developer will step in with a project and will have a much easier time getting a demolition permit on the grounds taht there are no other interested parties who want to spend what it will cost to renovate the Boyds.

    • James- I’ve been reading HC for a few years now and whenever theres an article regarding historical preservation, your names always seems to appear in the comments section. We get it! You’re against local landmark regulations and laws!

      Apparently, you contend that they are in direct violation of the Fifth Ammendment. However, in 1978 the Supreme Court ruled under Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City that such laws are “reasonable uses of government land-use regulatory power.”

      Finally, I don’t really see how LA Rose is infringing on the “rights of the lawful owner of the Boyd.” He or she has a right to freedom of speech and a right to peacefully petition and assemble. Correct?

      Perhaps, its time you bush up on your knowledge of the Constitution. You’re a bit off.

  3. Progress is inevitable. This theater has sat empty for over 10 years and is a major hinderance to the neighborhood. It’s time to let go of the past, in this case, and allow the future to take place. If no one has stepped forward in all these years to develop the property, what does a group of volunteers with no financial backing think they can do in the current economic environment.

  4. I look forward to the new movie theater opening. There isn’t a movie theater east of Broad Street in downtown Philadelphia, and that is a disgrace.

    Besides, if no one has stepped up to restore the Boyd in all these years, what makes you think that a group of volunteers with no financial backing can do it in this current economy?

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