The plan to renovate and expand 42nd Street's Theatre Row, years in the making, will possibly begin construction sometime this summer, said Fred Papert, president of the 42nd Street Development Project (42DC), which owns the stretch of land from 9th to 10th Avenues on which sit the collection of small theatres collectively known as Theatre Row.
Plans to revamp and refashion the property were first revealed in January 1998. In echo of the redevelopment of Times Square a few blocks to the east, 42DC intends to raze certain theatres, rebuild others and construct several new houses, including a 499-seat musical transfer theatre backed jointly by the Shubert Organization and Ben Sprecher. Sprecher owns two Off Broadway theatres -- the Variety Arts and Promenade -- and runs a third, the Lucille Lortel.
Before ground can be broken, however, 42DC must tackle several prickly real estate and ownership issues. Among them is the role the Alliance of Resident Theatres (A.R.T./NY) will play in the project. A.R.T./NY represents more than 300 small, nonprofit troupes around town. The plan calls for the Alliance to purchase two of the block's properties: 410 and 412 W. 42nd Street, which contain the Harold Clurman and Samuel Beckett theatres. "We believe they would have a better line to what the companies who rent these spaces need," Papert has said. Sources close to the situation indicate these matters will be resolved, for better or worse, in the next week or so.
Theatre Row has been a persistent beehive of activity since it was built out of a strip of tenements over 20 years ago. The block includes a group of rentable houses, including the Clurman, Beckett, Judith Anderson, Douglas Fairbanks and John Houseman theatres. The Row's most famous resident is the estimable Off-Broadway company, Playwrights Horizons. Playwrights owns its own building and is not affected by the plan, though it may decide to renovate its two theatres as well.
If all goes according to plan, however, Playwrights will be supplanted as the block's most visible tenant by a new Off-Broadway musical house. This multi-million dollar theatre would be co-owned by the Shuberts and Sprecher and be situated in the base of a new apartment tower climbing up to 35 stories and containing 250 apartments. To build the tower, three existing theatres -- INTAR, the Judith Anderson and Theatre Row Theatre -- would be razed. They would then be rebuilt on the 41st Street side of the tower, on land the New York Port Authority owns and has decided to sell to 42DC for $2 million. The apartment building would be constructed by The Brodsky Organization. The Beckett and Clurman, meanwhile, would be renovated or rebuilt. Papert told the New York Times the Shubert-Sprecher house would open by Jan. 1, 2001.
The entire development would further extend the rebirth of 42nd Street that began three years ago with the renovating of the New Victory Theatre, the refurbishing by Disney of the New Amsterdam Theatre, and the construction by Livent of the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts.
--By Robert Simonson