Monday, November 11, 2013

Bye Bye, Boyd

iPic Entertainment's President, Hamid Hashemi has claimed that an eight screen mega complex is the only way to save the historic Boyd Theater.

While Hashemi promised to restore the theater's Art Deco fa├žade and lobby, the auditorium would be demolished. Ben Leech of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia has echoed the reaction of the region's historic community and the alliance plans to challenge Hashemi's hardship claim.

Arguing that a theater built  from scratch on vacant land would be cost prohibitive, Hashemi stated, "There is no way to take a piece of real estate and build a theater on it and justify the rents or acquisition costs. That’s why you don’t have any new theaters."

I guess the Pearl and the Bridge are figments of my imagination.

What's more, Hashemi's Boyd development is all but a complete rebuild. How is it cost prohibitive to build a new theater from scratch on cleared land, but somehow cheaper to demolish an existing building and stack a Texas style megaplex on the carcass?

iPic's claims read like an itemized list of bull shit.

In addition to suggesting that Philadelphia has no new theaters, Hashemi claimed that iPic's original plan was to restore the Boyd. That's fishy considering iPic Entertainment is a national chain solely specializing in luxury multiplexes.

If iPic intended to restore the Boyd, they're muddling their position. Restoring the Boyd obviously wouldn't turn the kind of profit a multiplex would and it may take longer for iPic to recoup their investment. However iPic's assertion that restoration would be cost prohibitive is based entirely on estimates by EConsult, a consulting firm that iPic themselves commissioned.

What's even more curious is that iPic's eight screens will only hold 744 people while the massive Boyd auditorium holds 2300. Although Hashemi's multiplex will be showing eight movies at once, it's hard to imagine he could charge that much more to make up for 1500 less customers.

Ironically Hashemi is pitching iPic's multiplex as an experience, "Everything we do today is what people used to do in the 1920s and 30s. They used to create experiences. Going to the movies wasn’t just about what was on the screen."

His statement is represented in everything that the Boyd already is, but the truth is between the lines. Hashemi's multiplexes are experiences that offer everything you have at home: blankets and 64 oz sodas. The experience he's regaling is the one he's killing, and that's where iPic's true motivations lie.

iPic is a brand. While it may be an experience, that branded experience has nothing to do with the historic silver screen, a stance that could be more respectable if Hashemi would just be honest about the company's intent because it's all too obvious.

The only real mystery is why Hashemi claims that building on vacant land is cheaper than bastardizing the historic Boyd. What kind of incentives will iPic receive with its economic hardship claim? What subsidies is it receiving for restoring a portion of the headhouse? Does "renovating" a property allow for tax breaks and parking exemptions that iPic wouldn't receive if they broke ground on clear land?

We'll find out soon enough, and much of it is in the hands of the Historic Commission that's taken iPic's every claim at face value. I don't know why Philadelphia's Historic Commission exists if not to protect this exact scenario from playing out.

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