Philly Charges BSA for HQ Rent
So, big news for Philadelphia area boy scouts. Here’s the story in a nutshell: The Cradle of Liberty Council, and before them Philadelphia Council, has always occupied a headquarters in Philly for $1 a year. Recently, The city decided that it wasn’t fair to let a discriminating organization (you can’t be gay or atheist in the boy scouts) have that for free. Accoring to the Inquirer today, At the end of may, City Council voted to terminate the lease, so now COLBSA must pay a $200,000 fair lease or move.
But it’s more complicated than that. Let me say that I’m pretty conflicted here because I spent the better part of a decade (half of my life) involved with the Cradle of Liberty Council, based out of Southeastern Pennsylvania. I’ve been to the “Bruce S. Marks Scout Resource Center” a dozen times to buy things at the scout shop or interview for a job at camp. The building is beautiful. It’s one of the best known examples of Beaux-Arts architecture in the US. Not only that, it was built for the scouts in 1929 with collaboration from the city. The building is full of scouting details in the facade and original Norman Rockwell paintings. It represents a friendship between a city and community service organization, one that may not be there any longer.
Philadelphia, having ironically changed its motto to “the city that loves you back” to avoid sounding gay, is now a huge gay tourist city with a thriving “gayborhood.” In 2003, under the leadership of ridiculous mayor John Street, the city sued COLBSA for rent. The council tried to adopt their own non-discrimination policy, but BSA threatened to take them apart brick by brick. Philly wouldn’t have it. Now, they want the money.
I’m not sure what is appropriate here. On one hand, I’m not sure what the City Council really expecs local boy scouts to do. They already tried standing up against national policy, and it was a disaster. And it’s not like the building can be used for anything else; it’s historic! On the other hand, the scouts should probably pay something more than a dollar because they no longer have the same relationship with the city. The scouts could pay the rent, but that money is better spent fixing the camps and sending kids there. Bill Dwyer, the man in charge of Cradle of Liberty, is paid a ridiculous sum, but that’s neither here nor there.
I see two reasonable solutions. First, the scouts can pay to use the building as a headquarters, but the National organization should pay for it out of respect for the situation. That’s not likely to happen, but if COLBSA decides it can’t pay a good solution might be turning the building into a national museum on the level of the museum in Irving, Texas, or a of a different kind—one dedicated to preserving the history of Treasure Island, the oldest, continuously operated boy scout camp (and one that I worked at for years) and the Order of the Arrow, scouting’s national society started there in 1915.
photo courtesy of flickr user Seth Gaines