In a strange new plot twist in the saga of the Boyd Theatre, an anonymous donor has come forward offering to purchase the Boyd for $4.5 million, as Inga Saffron first reported for the Inquirer online Friday.
The offer from a local foundation comes while the Philadelphia Historical Commission is weighing a financial hardship application that would pave the way for developers to raze most of the historic art deco movie palace making way for a boutique eight-screen movie theater that would be operated by iPic Entertainment.
“Friends of the Boyd have a generous, civic-minded benefactor who has authorized funding to purchase the Boyd Theater from the owner Live Nation so it can be saved,” said Friends of the Boyd founder Howard B. Haas on Friday, calling the offer “a game changer.”
Haas has shared the offer with Live Nation, the development team, and Philadelphia Historical Commission but has not heard back from those parties. The offer matches what developer Neil Rodin has agreed to pay Live Nation for the Boyd.
The Historical Commission began hearings on the financial hardship application for the Boyd in January, and is scheduled to take up the proceedings again on Thursday, February 27. How this offer will be addressed at the hearing remains to be seen.
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)? It remains to be seen how the hardship committee will factor this offer into its considerations of the hardship application.
As part of testimony during last month's hardship hearing, Haas suggested that Live Nation did not do enough to market the property for sale. To Haas this new offer illustrates that problem.
“This is a benefactor that only recently surfaced,” Haas said, and they came forward as a result of the very real possibility that all but the Boyd’s Chestnut Street façade will be demolished. “We’re not being wise guys in presenting this at the last minute.”
Haas added that Friends of the Boyd, the nonprofit founded in 2002 to advocate for the Boyd’s reuse, is actively working to assemble other sources of funding to enable a full restoration of the historic theater as a “multi-purpose entertainment venue.”
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.
The Historical Commission's Committee on Financial Hardship is scheduled to meet concerning the Boyd Theatre hardship application on Thursday, February 27 at 1pm at 1515 Arch in room 18-029.
Ashley Hahn is an independent writer with a background in historic preservation and city planning. She started Eyes on the Street for PlanPhilly in 2011 and was PlanPhilly's managing editor from 2015-2017. Ashley has lived in 12 zip codes that she can think of, including neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She is a Philadelphian by choice.