The Playgoer: B'way Raising the Roof

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

B'way Raising the Roof

No, not another rock musical. It's real estate developers that are gettin' their groove on now on the rialto.

Anyone catch this interesting story in last Saturday's Times? Apparently the "air space" above certain theatres is up for sale and, for the right price, you too could bestride a Broadway house like a colossus.

In the past two years, Broadway theater operators have begun taking advantage of the zoning law that allows them to sell their unused air rights. That provision was drawn up in the 1990s, when Broadway was in a slump and theater advocates feared that serious drama might disappear from the city’s big stages.
So now enter Tishman Realty, eyeing the corner of 8th & 44th--which is currently vacant, but due to byzantine municipal agreements over the years will now involve the Shuberts and their Majestic Theatre:
The zoning at the site when Tishman bought it would have allowed for a hotel no taller than 28 stories, a Tishman spokesman said. But the company struck a deal to expand the size of the hotel by as much as 48,000 square feet — about six floors — by buying some of the unused development rights from the Majestic.

The spokesman, Richard Kielar, said the hotel would be run by a “four-and-a-half-star international” operator, but he declined to identify the company.

But if Tishman completes its purchase of those air rights, so called because they represent development space above the theaters, it must somehow enhance the theater community, according to the zoning law.
So the good news for the rest of us, those who won't be staying in the "four-and-a-half-star" hotel (and a half???), is Tishman must actually humble themselves to...get ready...provide artist housing and workspace!
To satisfy those demands, Tishman has proposed constructing a low-rise building adjacent to the hotel that would contain the mix of housing and studio space for performing artists, both of which would rent at a discount....a lower-income apartment house with two floors of studio space for small theater troupes.
Artists: let the stampede begin.

(Obviously, though, this is at least 3-4 years away. And hasn't even been approved yet. And the proposal includes only nine "affordable" apartments.)

A sad--and, frankly, hilarious--wrinkle in all this is the history of the 8th & 44th site itself and how it became vacant. According to Anna Levin, of the Hell's Kitchen Community Board:
It was formerly home to the Globe Hotel, a flophouse that was a notorious haven of drug sellers and prostitutes, Ms. Levin said. As the neighborhood’s fortunes began to improve in the late 1980s, the Globe’s tenants were subjected to harassment aimed at driving them out, according to a ruling by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Under the rules that govern development in the Clinton neighborhood west of Eighth Avenue, any future developer of the Globe Hotel site must provide low- to moderate-income housing to make up for that past harassment, Ms. Levin said.
Ha, take that Disneyfiers and gentrifiers! The ghosts of Time Square past have come back to haunt you....

Actually, I'm not saying this is all necessarily an evil thing. And, hey, genuinely affordable space is never a bad thing. But I do balk at the vision of a future Times Square, where our showcase theatres are dwarfed underneath towering ugly corporate behemoths.

What am I saying--haven't you seen the Mariott Marquis? It's here already!

(FYI, that's the hotel complex "with theatre" responsible back in '82 for the demolition of the Morosco and a handful of other smaller houses.)


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Garrett, It's excellent, highly informative and erudite writing like this that keeps me coming back to The Playgoer. Thank you so very much.

Playgoer said...

Thank you, Steve. I suppose, though, that the writer of the original article Patrick McGeehan deserves some of the credit. I guess...

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Ah, but it's your asides that make all the difference.