Seeking to rebuild and redesign the house once favored by George Abbott—the Biltmore Theatre—Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) executive producer Barry Grove is hoping to secure a Tony eligible venue by adopting some of the strategies used by the Roundabout Theatre Company in its $27 million renovation of the former Selwyn Theatre—now called Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre.
MTC is actively planning to raise initial loan guarantee money in its capital campaign to renovate the dilapidated Biltmore Theatre on W. 47th St. Like the Roundabout, which has a long lease on the American Airlines Theatre building, the MTC will gain control of the Biltmore. Later, Grove hopes, MTC will establish the option of actually purchasing the theatre at a favorable price.
While Roundabout had to move immediately to secure the Selwyn in a hot market due its eviction from the Criterion Center, MTC is entering the real estate market on the cusp of a cooling off period. The theatre company may be betting that the market will decline further.
Although details are sketchy, the ambitious capital campaign (now estimated to run anywhere between $16M- $20M) is expected to influence the direction of the leading nonprofit for years to come. In partnership with Biltmore 47 Associates, MTC is currently believed to be raising as much as $2M in loan guarantee money that will kick off its share of any larger capital campaign.
Helping MTC is its record as a leading nonprofit. On the other hand, the horrible condition of the Biltmore guarantees MTC an extensive and prolonged renovation. Grove's strategy mirrors the Roundabout's strong focus on improved amenities for theatre patrons. This appeals to subscribers, city planners and those at financial institutions who have recently watched Roundabout artistic director Todd Haimes succeed with innovative—and sometimes controversial—tactics like selling valuable "naming opportunities" for interior theatre spaces as well as the venue itself. —By Murdoch McBride