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Universal and Feibush Agree on One Thing: The Royal Theater is Ripe for Condo Conversion

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Who's going to save the Royal Theater? The answer, judging from both Ori Feibush and Kenny Gamble's proposals for the structure, is nobody. Though the Preservation Alliance sold the property to Universal Companies (Kenny Gamble's nonprofit) with a deed convenant that mandated restoration, Gamble, citing financial hardship, is seeking permission from the Philadelphia Historical Commission to all but demolish the landmark building.

Universal has had control of the building for nearly thirteen years now, and hasn't done much with it. A neighbor of the building says he saw some brick pointing get done a few years ago, but it's safe to say that, given the state of the walls, maintenance has been somewhat lacking.

According to Plan Philly,Gamble's plan for the building involves keeping the historic facade intact, and preserving the portion of the building that faces South Street into a mixed use cultural space. The rest of the theater would be torn down to make way for, you guessed it, market rate housing and parking.

What about Mr. Feibush? Unfortunately, his plan isn't much different:
Petitioner's Preliminary Plan is for a mixed-use development occupying 60% of the parcel with 1st and 2nd floors commercial and 3rd and 4th floors residential. Low density housing is proposed on the 40% of the lot facing Kater Street with underground parking provided through access on Kater Street. The proposed development costs are $7,134,000 with financing obtained through available lines of credit and cash through various partnerships.
At least there's no surface parking involved, yet. Sadly, Gamble is probably right: restoring the building now would require way more money than anyone is likely to come up with. A look at the Royal Theater from the outside reveals falling bricks and a veritable jungle growing out and through the structure: barring a huge cash infusion, there's probably no hope for total restoration of the Theater. And though Gamble is partially (or totally, depending upon your perspective) responsible for the structure's decay, his plan does include preservation of the historic facade and some cultural space. And though Act 135 bars conservators (which is what Feibush would become if he were to take charge) from making much of a profit from the building, a mixed-use development probably wouldn't do much to honor the theater's legacy.

Further, as Philadelinquency blogger Chris Sawyer points out on the Philadelphia Speaks forum, Act 135 is a little mysterious, and this case will probably set a precedent for the rest of the city.

· Royal Theater Coverage [Curbed Philly]
· Universal Seeks Ok to Demolish Most of Royal Theater [Plan Philly]
· Universal Would Like To Demolish Most Of The Royal Theater Now, But So Would Ori Feibush [Philebrity]
· Royally Huge Act 135 Case Launched Against Owner of Royal Theater [Philadelinquency]