In a move that neighbors called puzzling, a group of Germantown-area religious and community leaders denounced a possible historic designation for the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia, which they called a "hindrance" to plans for a state-of-the-art club with an ice-skating rink and music studios.
The news conference that was led by clergy members — including the Rev. Allan R. Robinson, pastor of New Bethel Church of Germantown — took place one day before the Philadelphia Historical Commission is scheduled to vote at 10 a.m. on whether to designate as historic the 120-year-old brick Colonial Revival building at 23 W. Penn St., which provides after-school athletics and other programs for Germantown youths.
>> READ MORE: Decision on Boys and Girls Club in Germantown delayed
The timing confused the Penn Knox Neighborhood Association, which filed the application. Sue Patterson, chair of the neighborhood group, and Oscar Beisert, the architectural historian who compiled the research for the application, said a decision was made in February to scrap plans to demolish the old club and renovate the existing one.
Club CEO Lisabeth Marziello did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Andrew Trackman, executive director of the Germantown United CDC, also said he was perplexed that Robinson and others were calling for withdrawing the application for historic designation.
"My understanding at the last community meeting was that the Boys & Girls Club had agreed not to demolish the building but to rehabilitate it within the current building," Trackman said. "This effort by Rev. Robinson is a little bit out of the blue."
The pastors say the current building isn't worth saving, and they questioned why the city would give historic designation to a building that was originally opened for white youths only, Robinson said.
Patterson accused the pastors of injecting racial animus into the debate.
"In spite of the fact that a cohesive unity of 14 community organizations are on the same page — and have negotiated to a point where a beautiful project is ready to launch — they are taking the opposite tack and throwing race into the mix and setting back race relations in Germantown 50 years."
Some residents on Penn Street had objected to original plans for a huge ice skating rink on a narrow, one-way residential street when there is a city-owned ice skating rink a 10-minute drive away. However, plans for the club's rink were dropped.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, whose district includes the club, said it was a fixture in the community.
"Generations have benefited from the services and activities made available and this must continue," Bass said in a statement. "They are in need of vital community resources, including access to a safe place with 21st century technology, learning materials, places where they can be active and programs where they can grow."
Beisert said the nomination seeks only to preserve the building itself — about 8 percent of the 2.5-acre site — and not the surrounding property. So it is still possible to include new construction.