PHILADELPHIA — A Boy Scouts of America group has agreed to vacate its rent-free, city-owned Philadelphia headquarters as part of a settlement reached after a long legal battle with the city over the organization's ban on gays, Mayor Michael Nutter's office said Friday.
The Boy Scouts Cradle of Liberty Council staff will leave its downtown Philadelphia headquarters by June 30 and the retail store in the building will close by Oct. 31. In exchange, the city will reimburse the Boy Scouts $825,000 for improvements made to the building in recent years, Nutter's office said.
A spokeswoman for the Scouts did not immediately return a call for comment.
The group's use of the building came under fire after the Boy Scouts of America barred gays from membership. The city unsuccessfully sought to have the local chapter evicted for violation of Philadelphia's anti-discrimination policies.
Last year, a federal judge ordered city to pay $877,000 for the Scouts' legal fees to fight a battle that has gone on for years. The settlement announced Friday would relieve the city of paying legal fees and settle the lawsuit, which was being appealed, Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald said.
City Council also rejected a previous proposal to resolve the conflict by selling the Scouts the building for $500,000.
The city insisted at a June 2010 trial that nonprofits given free use of its property must abide by local anti-discrimination laws, which include equal protection for gays. But the jury found the city's reason violated the local Scout council's First Amendment rights.
The local Cradle of Liberty Council had tried to appease the city, the United Way and other supporters and the Irving, Texas-based Boy Scouts of America.
In 2003, it enacted its own nondiscrimination policy but was forced to repeal it when the Boy Scouts of America ordered it to conform to national rules. The chapter later enacted a statement that says it doesn't tolerate illegal discrimination.
Later this month, the BSA National Council is scheduled to hear a proposal to partially lift the ban on gays — allowing them as youth members but continuing to bar them as adult leaders.