A local philanthropist has waded into the controversy surrounding the city's proposed settlement deal with the regional Boy Scouts, making a $1.5 million offer to buy the scouts' headquarters.
Real estate investor Mel Heifetz is offering more than the city would get from the scouts. Under the city's settlement deal - which follows a legal dispute based on the national organization's ban on gay Boy Scouts - the scouts would pay $500,000 for the Logan Square building and then drop a claim for up to $960,000 in legal fees.
Heifetz, who sent the offer to Mayor Nutter and the public property commissioner Monday, said that if he successfully bought the 13,000 square-foot building at 22nd and Winter streets, he would donate it to a charitable organization that does not discriminate.
"I thought maybe we can right a wrong. It would be very nice if the building were in the hands of some gay group," said Heifetz, who several years ago paid off the mortgage for the William Way Community Center, which serves the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
A spokesman for Nutter declined comment Monday night, saying the city had not seen the offer. Nutter has defended the proposed settlement, saying that it would end an expensive legal fight and the risk that city taxpayers would eventually have to pay the scouts' legal bills.
Under a condition brokered by Councilman Darrell Clarke, the scouts have agreed to make building space available for community groups, including events like diversity training.
Activists opposing the deal Monday said they hoped Heifetz's offer would force Nutter to reconsider.
"I think obviously from a fiscal standpoint the Mel Heifetz deal is the best for the city and from a discrimination standpoint," said Duane Perry, founder of the Food Trust, one of a long list of Philadelphians who signed a letter to Nutter opposing the deal last week.
The dispute began with a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2000 that upheld the legality of the national organization's ban on gay Scouts and troop leaders.
That put the organization in conflict with the city charter's ban on discrimination rooted in sexual orientation. In 2007, the city said the regional Scouts organization would have to vacate or begin paying $200,000-a-year rent for its previously rent-free headquarters, built by the Scouts 80 years ago on city-owned property.
The Scouts then sued the city, alleging a violation of First Amendment rights. In June, a federal jury agreed that the city had violated the Scouts' rights, raising the specter that taxpayers might have to pay their legal bills.
Nutter said last week that based on legal advice, from both the city solicitor and outside counsel, the city had determined to settle. But critics said Nutter should consider continuing appeals, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that said a public law school could deny recognition to a Christian student group that bars gay members.
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum, said the case was very similar.
"That case is very clear that you're not required to reward that discrimination," Lazin said. "Surprisingly, in Philadelphia while we speak of equality we see in this particular case there is a double standard when it comes to sexual orientation."