Zoning laws aren't terribly glamourous, but they're quite important to Broadway theatres, whose owners have been chafing for years at landmark-status rules that limit their development rights. Now, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has proposed an easing of zoning laws, allowing Broadway theatres to sell their unused development rights to commercial firms.
As explained by the New York Times (Dec. 30), unused development rights are the difference between the actual size of a building and the size it's legally allowed to be. Most Broadway theatres are only two or three stories high but rest on a plot of land that could accommodate a Manhattan skyscraper. A 10,000 square foot edifice resting on a space zoned for 100,000 square feet has 90,000 square feet of unused development. Those square feet (termed "air rights") would then be saleable to firms up to three-quarters of a mile away.
Not only could this bring millions of dollars to theatres, there would also be a premium put on high-rises built right next door to a theatre. For their part, theatre owners would have to promise to keep their properties as legit playhouses, and to give some of the profits to a "Broadway Initiative" that would inspect and enforce theatre maintenance and promote Broadway.
Among the theatres taking part are the Ambassador, Biltmore, Booth and Virginia, alongside the Henry Miller and former club, Studio 54. According to the Times, the proposal will go to the City Council for approval after review by community boards and a vote by the City Planning Commission.
Producer Rocco Landesman (of Jujamcyn) told the NY Times, "This is the first time in many years that I've allowed myself to be hopeful about the response of city government. For the first time, I am guardedly optimistic." According to a story in NY's Resident Publications, Actors' Equity president Ron Silver is sitting on the fence before supporting the zoning plan. "I hope it will serve different members of the community," he said at a January meeting of the Broadway Association. "If we don't get adequate assurance that [the plan] will not protect that area, we will not support it."
-- By David Lefkowitz