PAID board mum on Scouts deal

Members of a quasi-governmental entity that could play a key role in the proposed Boy Scouts property settlement had little to say about the matter when asked this week.

Mayor Nutter has indicated that the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development will act as an intermediary, if city-owned land is sold to the Boy Scouts of America Cradle of Liberty Council to settle a federal lawsuit.

The Home Rule Charter requires public bidding for the sale of city-owned property. But a 1967 state law allowing for the creation of PAID also permits the city to use PAID to bypass public-bidding requirements for projects related to economic development.

Under the proposed settlement, PAID would purchase 231-251 N. 22nd St. from the city for a nominal fee, then sell it to the Scouts for at least $500,000.

Proceeds from the sale would be placed in the city’s general fund.

Critics of the proposed settlement say PAID would be straying too far from its mission if it becomes involved in transferring property to the Scouts.

Board members attending PAID’s April 5 public meeting said they had no opinion about the proposed settlement, but they routinely follow any guidance provided to them by the city law department.

“It’s difficult to comment on something that hasn’t come to us yet from the city,” said James F. McManus, the board chair. “It may never come to us.”

Board members David L. Hyman and Evelyn F. Smalls also attended the meeting. Thomas A.K. Queenan and Harold B. Yaffe were absent.

The mayor appoints PAID board members.

In December, City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke introduced a bill allowing the transfer of the property to the Scouts in order to settle federal litigation.

However, Clarke’s bill doesn’t state that PAID, or any other entity, would serve as an intermediary in the property transfer.

A 1974 city ordinance requires approval from City Council before PAID can act as an intermediary in the transfer of city-owned property.

PAID board members at the meeting said they had no opinion on Clarke’s bill, nor whether it should explicitly state anything about PAID.

They also said they have no plans to testify at a public hearing on Clarke’s bill, if one is held.

LGBT activist Andrew A. Chirls, who did not attend the PAID meeting, opposes the Scouts settlement. He questioned why Clarke’s bill doesn’t specify that PAID is authorized to participate in the proposed settlement.

“The bill doesn’t say that no public bidding is needed,” Chirls told PGN. “And it doesn’t say an entity that can sell the building without public bidding should participate.”

Kera Walter, a spokesperson for the Scouts, had no comment on whether the Scouts would object to an amendment to Clarke’s bill spelling out the intended role of PAID.

In the past, the Scouts have claimed ownership of the building — even though they don’t hold the deed — partly because they built it, have occupied it since 1928 and installed upgrades.

Walter had no comment on whether the Scouts’ current legal position is that they don’t own the building and need the deed transferred to them in order to assert ownership.

If PAID decides to participate in the proposed deed transfer, that decision would be announced at a PAID board meeting, McManus said.

“If PAID were asked to be involved, it would be reviewed at a public meeting, and a vote would be taken,” he said.

Advance notification of the vote would be provided to the public upon request, he said.

PAID members were asked if they could do anything to ensure that discrimination doesn’t take place on property that PAID plays a role in selling.

“Our assumption is that all applicable laws will be followed in any lease or sale agreement,” McManus said. “Typically we wouldn’t layer on additional requirements. But that’s not to say we couldn’t.”

Mel Heifetz, a local businessman and philanthropist, has offered to pay $1 million for the property. Additionally, Heifetz has agreed to pay legal fees assessed against the city stemming from the federal lawsuit.

But twice, his down payment of $10,000 was returned to him by the city law department, on the basis that the building is expected to be sold to the Scouts.

PAID board members said they had no opinion as to whether someone other than the Scouts should have an opportunity to purchase the property.

Philadelphians Against Subsidized Discrimination want the city to appeal last year’s federal-jury verdict, which found that the city violated the Scouts’ constitutional rights when citing the Scouts’ antigay policy as a reason for eviction.

If the property is to be sold, PASD members want a public-bidding process to ensure the highest proceeds for the city’s general fund.

They say selling the property to the Scouts for $500,000 would be far below market value, and would amount to subsidized discrimination because the Scouts exclude gays and atheists.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at [email protected].

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, the Keystone Press and the Pennsylvania Press Club.