Boy Scouts Leaving City-Owned Philly Headquarters

After years of fighting with the city, the group will vacate its city-owned, rent-free property

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Friday, May 3, 2013  |  Updated 6:07 PM EDT
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Boy Scouts Leaving City-Owned Philly Headquarters

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Shown is the city-owned Boy Scouts headquarters in Philadelphia, Monday, June 14, 2010. A federal trial is getting under way that could settle a long-running dispute between local Boy Scouts and the city of Philadelphia. At issue is whether the local scouts group should be allowed to stay rent-free in its city-owned headquarters, despite the Boy Scouts of America's national policy banning gays.

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After a contentious fight with the City of Philadelphia over its Logan Square headquarters and anti-gay policies, the local chapter of the Boy Scouts of America has decided to move.

A spokeswoman with Mayor Michael Nutter's office says the Cradle of Liberty Council Boy Scouts of America will leave their city-owned building at 22nd and Winter Streets by June 30.

The group has been inhabiting the building rent-free for years. The Scouts built the building on city property in 1928.

In return for leaving the property, the city will pay $825,000 to the group for improvements made to the building over the years.

“We're pleased that we've reached a settlement with the city. We're obviously sad to be leaving our home for 85 years," said Scout Executive & CEO of the Cradle of Liberty Council Boy Scouts of America Tom Harrington.

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A fight between city officials and the local chapter has been ongoing since 2008. The city has insisted non-profits using free city property must adhere to anti-discrimination laws.

The Boy Scouts have publicly banned gays from the organization. The group's oath requires members to be "morally straight."

Philadelphia tried to evict the group from the Logan Square building by threatening to sell the property to a developer for half its price.

The Boy Scouts took the city to court and ultimately won. A federal judge ruled Philadelphia pay the Scouts nearly $900,000 in legal fees related to the case.

"Our focus will always be in serving the kids of the city and this litigation was a distraction. It’s always in our best interest to reach a settlement and move forward,” Harrington told NBC10.com.

The Cradle of Liberty Council enacted its own anti-discrimination policy in 2003, but the national organization, based in Texas, forced the chapter to repeal it.

The national group was set to vote on changing its policies on gays in February, but delayed the decision saying they needed more time to decide.

In a statement after the decision was announced, Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke said he was disappointed such a deal had to be reached.

"I'm disappointed COLBSA was not permitted by the Boy Scouts of America to adopt its own, more reasonable policy of inclusion," Clarke said. "I will continue to support COLBSA's great work with our youth as much as I continue to hope COLBSA will one day ban discrimination against gay children and adults."

Harrington says his organization has been gathering opinions from the neighborhoods they serve about allowing openly gay children to be scouts. He says the opinions have varied.

The national organization plans to vote at the end of May on a resolution to allow gay child scouts. Harrington said the resolution does not address allowing openly gay adult scouts to remain in the organization.

Harrington says the Cradle of Liberty Council has committed to doubling the number of low-income youth in the organization over a five-year period.

The Cradle of Liberty Council's retail store will remain in the Winter Street building until October 31. It's unclear what may become of the property.

Harrington says a new headquarters has yet to be chosen and the group is looking at locations in Philadelphia and the suburbs.

More than 17,000 kids are served by the Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia and Montgomery and Delaware Counties.


Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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