After last night’s public meeting at the Bainbridge Club on the redevelopment of the Royal Theater, three things are certain:
1. Barring some miracle, the Royal will not survive whole.
2. Many residents would like owner Universal Companies to at least honor the theater’s history and heritage.
3. Universal will have to do more fence-mending to bring skeptical near neighbors on board with its plans.
The meeting was the first of what will likely be a series of public meetings to inform the community and obtain feedback on Universal’s plans to demolish and redevelop much of the African-American cultural landmark and build on an adjacent lot as a mixed-use project that will include street-level retail on South Street, apartments above, and new townhouses on Kater Street.
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Earlier this year, after Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies put the crumbling Royal Theater on South Street up for sale, real estate agent and developer Ori Feibush made a bid for the derelict hulk, meeting the asking price of $3.2 million. Given the extent of the repairs that need to be made to stabilize, let alone rebuild, the theater, the price strikes us as a bit lavish, but Royal OCF Holdings met it.
Gamble, however, never took him up on the offer. Now a neighbor has filed a petition to give it to him.
PDQ reports that the neighbor, Juan Levy, filed suit in Common Pleas Court to have a conservator appointed for the building under the provisions of Act 135, the state law that allows historic buildings to be put into a form of receivership if it appears the building is being demolished through neglect. In the suit, Levy recommended Feibush as conservator.
For his part, Feibush states he did not seek this intervention and that the court is free to appoint whoever it chooses. But Feibush has plans already announced for both redeveloping the Royal and building on vacant lots adjacent to it on South and Kater streets, which is more than Gamble has done to this point. And as rumors have circulated that Universal is suffering a cash crunch, turning down an offer to buy the building for the asking price seems odd indeed. Unless you think that Gamble’s sale effort was just a ruse to allow him to petition the Historical Commission to release him from covenants not to demolish the building attached when he purchased it from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia in 2000.
Stay tuned. This is gonna get real interesting real fast.
Royally Huge Act 135 Case Launched Against Owner of Royal Theater (PDQ)