Ladeees and gentlemen:
In corner #1: Gigantic, muscular guys pounding each other senseless (or at least, pretending to) while selling shirts, pants, burgers and fries.
In corner #2: More burgers and fries, this time served by people in togas.
In corner #3: Stand-up comedians barraging tourists with jokes about dating, cabdrivers, burgers and fries.
In corner #4: The financially beleaguered Canadian company, Livent.
And the winner is... Livent!
The prize? The theatre space next door to Livent's own Ragtime on NY's rehabilitated 42nd Street. As reported by the NY Times and confirmed to Playbill On-Line by New 42nd Street spokesperson Lauren Daniluk, Livent's bid to build a 500-seat theatre, "first-class" restaurant and office space at the venue beat out bids by -- no joke -- the World Wrestling Federation, the Laugh Factory comedy club, and entrepreneurs who wanted to open a restaurant with a Roman gladiatorial theme.
Apparently, the WWF bid higher for the property, but the New 42nd Street development agency decided to go with the more cultural offer.
President Cora Cahan told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 4), "We've had many bidders over the years, but this was really a work of fate. Four or five bids came in within a few weeks of each other, so we were able to look at them as a group." Cahan noted than another recent bidder was "a charming proposal to turn the venue into a vaudeville house." Cahan wouldn't comment on why the idea was rejected.
Cahan noted that Livent had a leg up on the competition because the Canadian-based company has done so well with Ragtime and the Ford Center. "We'd had a terrific experience with them," Cahan said. "They honored the historical requirements and did something everyone in town thought was impossible to do. And they did it on time and on budget. They've been a fabulous, interesting and exciting tenant." Cahan wouldn't comment on Livent's financial situation -- they reported losses totaling $50 million -- and how they'd come up with the resources to buy and renovate a theatre. She did say that if the negotiations go through, she guessed Livent would have a construction schedule ready by early 1999 and work completed by mid-2000. According to a press release issued by Livent, the proposed building would also house 10,000 square feet of office space and become Livent's New York headquarters. Said Vice Chairman Garth Drabinsky, "We intend to refurbish the Times Square Theatre to ensure it has the stage dimensions (29 feet deep by 100 feeet wide), backstage flexibility and theatre technology to make it a first-class facility. For the first time...Livent will have an intimate theatre venue to present an ongoing series of plays."
Cahan told the NY Times (Aug. 4), "We felt that reinventing five of the seven historic theatres on 42nd Street with vibrant theatrical life was absolutely the right way to go." (Currently in operation are the Ford Theatre (Ragtime), the New Amsterdam (The Lion King) and the New Victory Theatre (family-oriented theatre), while the Roundabout is making plans to redo the Selwyn.) The Times Square Theatre, which is surrounded on three sides by Livent's Ford Center, would be the fifth.
A WWF spokesperson noted to the Times that the outrageous characters in professional wrestling would have fit right in with cartoon-oriented stores already on the block, as well as the planned Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. "I thought we were compatible with Disney and Warner Brothers," WWF senior VP James Bell told the Times, "but the board really wanted a traditional theatre versus, quote unquote, another entertainment type."
As reported by the Times, Livent is expected to sign a memorandum of agreement Aug. 4, which would give them six months to strike a final deal. Charles A. Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, said he expected Livent to spend about what they did ($30 million) on the Ford Center.
Built in 1920 by Edgar and Arch Selwyn, the Times Square Theatre housed 1,057 patrons, with 512 in the orchestra. Edgar's own play, The Mirage, opened the venue Sept. 30, 1920, according to Nicholas Van Hoogstraten's book, "Lost Broadway Theatres." The venue remained a live theatre until 1934, when it became, for six years, a movie house. In 1940, a brick storefront was built on the theatre's stage(!), though the rest of the space is said to be in "relatively good condition."
-- By David Lefkowitz