Will an Anonymous Donor Buy the Boyd?

For over a decade, the Boyd Theater has sat vacant and blighted on the 1900 block of Chestnut Street. Since it was last in active use in 2002, several possible plans have come and gone for this deco beauty, but all have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. In October, we learned about a plan from iPic Theaters to maintain the building's facade and demolish the enormous one-screen theater in favor of a boutique eight-screen concept plus a restaurant.

View today of the theater

When we heard about this idea, we confess we experienced mixed emotions. On the one hand, we were very happy to hear that this long-vacant building would be coming to life again. We were also pleased as punch to learn that Center City would be getting a multi-screen first-run theater once again, something that's been sorely lacking for so many years. On the other hand, the building has so much history and it's one of the only intact downtown theaters that are left out of the dozens we once had. The demolition of the old theater's interior would absolutely be a loss.

In the past

Late last week, news came out that an anonymous donor had stepped forward and offered to match the $4.5M sale price being paid by the developer working with iPic. This is music to the ears of the Friends of the Boyd group, which has been working to preserve this building since shortly after the old Sameric closed. And while we would definitely welcome the possibility of the redevelopment of the Boyd in its entirety, we have some concerns about the new turn this story has taken. First, the anonymous donor has stepped forward with no clear plan for the building's restoration and no additional funding in place, to our knowledge. According to a study from Econsult, the costs of restoration could top $50M. Tons of public money could be needed. And even if the money can be found to bring the whole building back, the troubles at the Prince Music Theater serve as a cautionary tale.

We're not saying that we necessarily prefer demolition over preservation in this case, but the latter certainly seems riskier in this situation. On Thursday, the Historical Commission's Hardship Committee will finish hearing the case and will decide whether the redevelopment of the building represents an untenable financial hardship and will ostensibly consider this new offer with the rest of the evidence. We'll see what they recommend to the full Historical Commission, which should rule on this case next month.

Strap on your seatbelts, folks. The story of the future of the Boyd is still being written. And we still have no idea how it will end.