THE LAST of the city's 1920s-era movie palaces may be on its last legs.

Developers want to partially demolish the Boyd Theater, at 19th and Chestnut streets, and replace it with an eight-screen multiplex that includes luxury seating and a restaurant.

The faded facade of the building would be restored, but the 2,450-seat Art Deco theater inside would be gutted to make way for new, smaller movie theaters.

The Friends of the Boyd, a small, but determined group, is arguing against the move, which still must be approved by the city's Historical Commission.

Ever since 2002, when it closed (it was then called the Sameric theater), the Friends - and some commercial developers - have worked to find a way to keep the interior intact, possibly as a venue for concerts or plays.

Nothing has panned out.

A recent analysis by a firm hired by the Historical Commission looked at a variety of possible reuses. The price tag for restoring the Boyd to its former glory would be $40 million to $50 million, according to the analysis.

That's too high a price, even if publicly subsidized, Real Estate Strategies told the commission. Income generated by new uses of the Boyd would not be enough to cover the cost of the rehab plus the ongoing expenses of operating and maintaining the building.

In short, the Boyd is not economically viable as a single theater acting as a venue for concerts, movies or Broadway musicals.

The hope offered by Friends of the Boyd is that someday, somehow, someone will find a use for the theater that will preserve it. But, no one can say when that will happen: maybe in a few years, maybe in a few decades, maybe never.

While the Friends may have the patience to let some future generation save the Boyd, the rest of us should not. Cities don't thrive by allowing viable property to sit neglected and unused. The Boyd property has been an eyesore along a stretch of Chestnut Street that has seen a commercial and residential revival in recent years.

Balancing preservation with development is never easy, with the city of the past and the city of the present often tugging in different directions.

When it comes to the Boyd, it is not a case of demolition by neglect. People have searched for years for a reuse of the property that preserves the grand theater inside. The process of deliberation by the appropriate city agencies has run its course.

Such conversations are one way that cities examine what they value and why, and this one has been a particularly long conversation. But everyone has gotten a say.

The key question before the commission is: Does the building create financial hardship for its owner because of its limited potential for reuse as a single theater? The Historical Commission's own analysis makes it clear that the building's owner can make the case for financial hardship.

When the commission meets next month, it should let the new project advance. As tantalizing as it is, the dream of a Boyd restored to its former glory is not going to come to pass. It is time to let go.