Development at Boyd Theatre site takes shape

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The former Boyd Theater, at 19th and Chestnut in Philadelphia. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

A restaurant or store could play next inside the art deco shell of the historic Boyd Theatre. Above it, 238 apartments in a 27-story tower are to overlook a neglected block of Chestnut Street.

These plans have been set in motion by the approval of a building permit for a litany of properties at 19th and Chestnut. Long-discussed but faint hopes for a modern movie multiplex to inhabit the Boyd, built in 1928, have faded.

The development is subject to review. But with no zoning variances required, Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger said, approval could be swift.

"It's hardly the worst block in the world, but the block has been, in effect, blighted for a long time," he said. "I know there are a certain amount of people upset about losing the Boyd, but that's done. It's time to make something happen there."

The developer, Pearl Properties, owns much of the block. Pearl planned last spring for a 26-story residential tower at 19th and Chestnut, immediately east of the Boyd, but the building plans were twice as dense as the zoning permitted and faced opposition from the Center City Residents' Association.

Jim Pearlstein and Reed Slogoff of Pearl Properties purchased the Boyd in October to add to the project's footprint. The Historical Commission approved demolition of the movie palace's auditorium - but saved the Chestnut Street exterior. Pearl Properties chose to retain the foyer and spacious lobby that extends to Sansom Street. Deconstruction started on a Saturday in March. Permits were issued last week.

The new tower calls for more than double the number of apartment units that were specified in the initial plan. The maximum height of the building, by zoning code, is 315 feet. There is retail and business space planned for the first three floors, with 66 underground parking spaces.

Greenberger said Pearl was not ready to disclose possible tenants. He praised the developers for "a smart arrangement of pieces" consistent with zoning code.

"There are a couple of surprises that people will find really enjoyable," Greenberger said. "Some nice touches that will add to the strength of the whole proposal."

Pearl Properties did not return requests for comment.

For years, the Boyd's fervent supporters sought ways to reuse the space. A proposal by another developer to bring iPic, a Florida luxury movie chain, would have razed everything but the Boyd's facade. When that deal crumbled, iPic continued to negotiate with Pearl up until two months ago, according to a source involved with the company.

The iPic model did not fit, Greenberger said, financially or physically.

Pearl will reuse the entire Boyd lobby space, which extends about 150 feet back, with a single-use tenant. Howard Haas, president of the Friends of the Boyd, lamented the loss of the auditorium but voiced optimism.

"The Friends of the Boyd are very excited by the possibility that the beautiful art deco interiors will be restored so that the public can enjoy those spaces," he said.

Haas added: "We have seen many plans come and go since 2002, and we'll believe it when we see it."


mgelb@philly.com

215-854-2928 @MattGelb