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Editorial | Convention Center Expansion

Stand by deal: Use buildings' facades

The folks overseeing the $700 million expansion of the Convention Center - from Gov. Rendell on down - appear to have borrowed a page straight out of the football playbook of the late Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay.

Irsay, as any Johnny Unitas fan well knows, packed up the Colts in the dark of night in 1984 and slunk away to Indianapolis without any notice.

Rendell's bureaucrats handling the Convention Center expansion tried a similar sneaky move last weekend.

At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, while many people were either rolling over or thinking about waking up to prepare their homes for Christmas, a demolition crew began tearing off the facades of two historic buildings on North Broad Street to make way for the expansion.

The demolition began despite a protection ruling that had been issued two days before by the state's top preservation official.

Rather than abide by the ruling, the head of a different state agency - Department of General Services Secretary James Creedon - ordered the demolition to move forward. Creedon says the buildings were unsafe.

So let's see, one state agency says not to demolish the buildings, but hours later another state agency says go ahead and knock them down. (And get cracking while, hopefully, no one is paying attention.)

It would be a big help if Rendell would issue an updated organizational chart so everyone knows which state rules matter and which ones can be ignored.

Better yet, perhaps Rendell and his state lackeys should stand by the agreement that Convention Center president Albert Mezzaroba signed in 2004, pledging to incorporate the building facades into the expansion.

Creedon claims it would cost $9 million to save the facades, which include a five-story neoclassical structure and a modernist addition by a famed architect from the 1960s movement known as the Philadelphia School.

It's great to keep a lid on the budget, but this cost within a $700 million job seems justified.

Fortunately, Commonwealth Court Judge Bonnie B. Leadbetter halted the demolition and ordered a Jan. 8 hearing on the dispute.

Before then, Rendell & Co. ought to realize the historical significance of the buildings and agree that they should be saved.

There are no do-overs when it comes to preserving history.