PHILADELPHIA — The historic Boyd, one block off Rittenhouse Square on Chestnut Street, has always had a devoted fan base who wanted to see the Art Deco theater preserved and Hal Wheeler stepped in to fill that role.
After it closed in May 2002, the owner of the Boyd, Sameric Corp., filed for a demolition permit and challenged a historic designation for the theater.
After several legal battles, the Preservation Alliance with the help of Friends of the Boyd, and the Philadelphia Historical Commission put the Boyd Philadelphia on the Register of Historic Places, therefore legally protecting the property.
Howard Haas, who heads up the Friends of the Boyd as a vehicle to getting it restored, began working with Wheeler in 2008 on the project. While initially suspicious of Wheeler’s intentions, Haas changed his mind.
“We fell in love with him and his plans,” he said. “We needed a little convincing, but he did convince us of his sincerity. Hal had a vision of the restoration of the Boyd.”
Wheeler’s plans entailed buying the structure from Live Nation, which currently owns it, restoring it and putting in a Kimpton Hotel and entertainment venue in the facility that would be used for “light entertainment” such as concerts and lectures. In order for that deal to happen, state and city money was needed and both government entities had committed to pitch in some funds. Unforeseeable at the time the commitments were made, the state was hit with a budget crisis.
Public money for projects such as the Boyd got put on hold. All along, Wheeler had been negotiating extensions with Live Nation to push closing dates back out so he could get the funding lined up. The extensions were always granted.
“We were working closely with him and even the week he fell sick, we were setting up very important meetings about the Boyd,” Haas recalled.
Then Wheeler died.
Now the Boyd remains in limbo. Live Nation still owns the property and the Friends of the Boyd have been unable to buy it on their own. The acquisition and restoration run $25 million to $35 million. With the hotel, the project had ballooned to $135 million.
“Now the question is if Hal had not died would he have been able to continue extensions with Live Nation,” said Ken Mallin of Mallin Panchelli Nadel, who worked with Wheeler on his Center City projects such as helping to assemble the parcels for 10 Rittenhouse and the Boyd. “It’s anyone’s guess. While he was alive, the deal was alive. After he died, the deal died.”
Natalie Kostelni, Reporter
Philadelphia Business Journal