They give merit badges in map-reading.
But Boy Scout leaders in the San Fernando Valley ended up in unfamiliar surroundings when they blazed a new trail toward financial independence two years ago.
Officials of the Scouts’ Western Los Angeles County Council said Tuesday that they plan to sell the glitzy Ventura Boulevard headquarters they built in 1986 as a rent-producing moneymaker. They said they want to return to more familiar, humble roots.
“This building doesn’t have the Scouting flavor,” said Gene Richey, council executive. “People say this building doesn’t remind them of the Scouting experience.”
Richey was seated in the spotlight-accented conference room off his posh office on the second floor of the 50,000-square-foot, mirror-sided office building at 14140 Ventura Blvd.
Built as Partnership
Scout leaders built the three-story building in partnership with two private developers. The idea was to use part of the space for the council’s administrative offices and rent out the rest.
Officials figured that the council would begin turning a profit from the rent by 1991. Those revenues would be funneled into the Scouting program--which annually serves about 70,000 youngsters in 800 Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs between Westlake Village and Edwards Air Force Base.
As it turned out, the building began making money this year. Not everyone is delighted, however.
“It’s commercial; it’s an office building,” Richey said. “It doesn’t have the homeyness, the atmosphere, that some people would prefer.”
Richey, who was hired as the Valley’s top Scout administrator this year after heading Scout programs in Nevada and Arizona, said he’ll be happy to give up his fancy office.
“I believe we have to use our resources for Scouting, not real estate management,” he said.
Former council president Richard H. Breithaupt Jr., a real estate developer who masterminded the construction project, said the Ventura Boulevard building has been a success for the Scouts.
“Certainly there are some who feel we should project more of an austere image,” Breithaupt said. “It’s not in keeping with the traditions of camping, I understand that.
“But you have to understand the financial benefits this building has made to the council. We took a hard-nosed business approach to solving the problem of getting a new administrative service center.”
The Scouts’ previous headquarters in Van Nuys was a ramshackle, termite-infested building where employees set out buckets to catch ceiling drips when it rained, he said.
The cost of the Sherman Oaks site and construction was $6.8 million. Breithaupt said the Scouts contributed $1.5 million to the project, then exercised an option later to buy out the private developers for another $1 million. Because record producer Mike Curb contributed $1 million to the project, the Scouts’ headquarters bears his name.
Scout officials say the Valley council’s joint-venture project was the first of its kind in the United States. In the past two years, Breithaupt has traveled across the country to explain to others how the deal was put together. As a result, Scout units in the Chicago and Dallas areas have undertaken similar projects.
The Scouts hope to sell their Sherman Oaks building for about $13.5 million, Breithaupt said. The profit will go into an endowment fund, with the proceeds to help finance future council activities.
In the meantime, a special committee is being formed to hunt for a new headquarters, according to Richey. He said he hopes the next one is a free-standing, unimposing building with plenty of convenient parking.
Troop leaders visiting the Scout center’s “trading post” Tuesday to buy new uniforms, extra merit badges and camping equipment agreed.
“I hope the new building isn’t so big,” said Libbern Cook, scoutmaster of Troop 101 in Reseda. “This doesn’t remind me of Scouting. The first time I came here, I thought this was a furniture building.”