Proposed sale of Philly Boy Scouts headquarters back on track

The city's proposed sale of the historic Boy Scouts of America local headquarters to the group was back on track Thursday, but a formidable coalition of gay-rights and other civic leaders has lined up against it.

Councilman Darrell L. Clarke introduced legislation at Thursday's City Council meeting that would allow the sale, saying he hoped it would encourage discussions among the various sides.

The bill comes out of an effort by the city to settle legal claims stemming from a lawsuit it lost against the scouts.

Neighbors of the scout headquarters in the Logan Square area had feared the group might sell the building to a developer, so Clarke included a provision that would prohibit any sale for 10 years.

His bill also would require the scouts to give community groups space in the building for various programs, including education on diversity and gay and lesbian issues. That was meant to address concerns over the scouts' national policy of prohibiting homosexuals in some scouting programs.

Council will not take any action on Clarke's bill until next year because Thursday's was the last session of 2010.

On Tuesday, gay-rights advocates and other civic leaders sent Mayor Nutter a letter asking him not to sell the headquarters to the scouts.

"The recent proposal to sell city-owned property to the Boy Scouts, at a big discount, to facilitate discrimination is contrary to the values and beliefs we hold most dear as a community. As history has shown, when we permit discrimination against some of us, we tear apart the fabric that makes us one," the letter said.

It was signed by David Adamany, former president of Temple University; Sister Mary Scullion, founder of Project HOME; Casey Cook, executive director of the Bread and Roses Community Fund; philanthropist Peter Buttenwieser; and many other city and regional leaders.

"Obviously, we had asked the councilman to consider a different option, so we were disappointed that he decided to move ahead and introduce the ordinance," said R. Duane Perry, a signer of the letter who is also a former Eagle Scout and founder of the Food Trust. Perry said he thinks the city should appeal the court ruling.

Tom Harrington, chief executive of the Philadelphia scouts organization, known as the Cradle of Liberty Council, said he hoped the sale would go through.

"Our focus has been on resolving the dispute, saving the city money, and serving the youth of Philadelphia," Harrington said, "and I would hope we could resolve this amicably and reasonably and get on with the business of serving kids."

In 2008, the city, which owns the scouts' property, sued the group for discrimination because it does not permit gays to join. The city lost that suit and is on the hook for legal fees owed by the scouts. The scouts' law firm, Drinker, Biddle & Reath, estimated that figure at $963,000. The city argued it should be much less, about $268,000.

In September, the city and scouts agreed to settle the dispute by having the scouts buy the headquarters from the city for $500,000. The city would not have to pay the legal fees, which, as part of the compromise, were agreed to be about $600,000.

Those two figures equal $1.1 million, the midpoint between two appraisals of the property, Clarke said.

Andrew Chirls, a local lawyer who signed the letter, said he didn't believe the appraisals accurately reflected the value of the property, which is in an attractive location near the city's museums and houses that regularly sell for more than $1 million.

"I'm an appraisal skeptic," he said.

But he praised Clarke's bill. "I'm pleased that this bill is going be the focal point for more discussions and more efforts focused on meeting everybody's needs," Chirls said.

The mayor said he had seen the letter and acknowledged its many prominent signers.

But he said it was the city's "legal judgment that pursuing this further is a less-than-potentially-positive outcome."

He added: "What's being ignored is there was an actual trial" and the city lost, and it owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Rather than pay that money, which would further diminish the city's shrinking finances, "the smarter decision," Nutter said, was to negotiate a sale price that took that money into account.

 


Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520 or hillmb@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Marcia Gelbart and Jeff Shields contributed to this article.