A restrictive covenant placed on The Royal Theater, subject of a legal battle between Universal Companies (owned by Kenny Gamble) and OCF Realty (owned by Ori Feibush), prohibits alterations, demolitions, or substantial changes of any sort without the okay from the Pennsylvania Museum Historic Commission (PMHC). The Royal Theater was the first Black owned theater in Philadelphia when it opened in 1920, and though it was sold to developer Kenny Gamble with the understanding that he would preserve it, the structure has fallen into a state of disrepair. Gamble is seeking to demolish most of the structure, claiming that preservation would be a financial hardship. Meanwhile, a petition to appoint Ori Feibush as conservator of the building has also been filed.
The covenant isn't tied to the owner, but rather to the land, which means that even if the land is sold of handed over to a conservator, any changes would have to go through the PMHC, which means that both developers would have to justify their plans for significant changes and demolition.
Both plans appear to involve significant demolition, and would alter the majority of the structure. Gamble is claiming hardship, and looking for approval from the city's Historic Commision to demolish the majority of the theater. His plan includes:
· Keeping the historic facade intact
· Significant demolition
· A mixed use cultural facility fronting South Street
· Market rate housing
· Surface parking
Feibush's plan, listed in the petition to appoint him as conservator of the building, is:
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. In a comment on this website, Feibush insisted that his plan is to "save the building" by "tearing it down and building it back up." Regardless, the covenant on the property would create significant road blocks for both proposals. The covenant, which was attached to the property when Gamble received a $50,000 grant to preserve the building, requires that any significant changes to the structure have to be approved by the PHMC until 2023.
The Royal Theater will probably still come down: it is in a state of disrepair, and it's unlikely that the money to restore it to its former grandeur will surface. Still, the PHMC will bring a preservation-oriented perspective to the table.
· Demo or alteration of Royal Theater requires state preservation review [Eyes on the Street]
· Universal and Feibush Agree on One Thing: The Royal Theater is Ripe for Condo Conversion [Curbed Philly]