The City of New York, the Times Square Business Improvement District (BID) and various theatre trade groups have adopted (or are adapting to) extensive plans to prepare for the large crowds expected here to experience the celebration in Times Square on Dec. 31. To this end, a large capital improvement plan will be implemented over the next three months. Budget details on the plan were not available at press time.
The Times Square BID has not committed to a specific time frame for all the work, but it is already distributing routine advisories to property management firms and others who may be affected by the city work, which is being scheduled in preparation for the coming 24-hour long New Year celebration.
An immediate development, symbolic of the city's focus on staging a great show Dec. 31, occurs Sept. 23 when the Times Square BID will unveil the recently completed New Year's Eve Ball at a scenery shop in the Bronx. Weighing 1,070 pounds and covered with 504 crystal triangles, this is the centerpiece of the celebration that will be lowered at midnight from high above Times Square.
The Times Square millennium celebration is expected to draw 1.5 million visitors and more than one billion television viewers around the world. (The actual beginning of the new millennium and century is, in fact, Jan. 1, 2001, though most citizens and organizations have chosen to commemorate the year 2000.) Before then, theatregoers, tourists and New York residents who frequent Times Square are likely to see extensive prep work at various times in and around the vicinity of Times Square.
Some of the work in the capital improvement program has begun. This includes the resurfacing of streets between Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue, running south from 49th Street to 43rd Street. This is not a full milling and repaving program, but a less disruptive resurfacing application. In addition, broader European-style crosswalks are planned for the Times Square area in anticipation of the increased pedestrian load during the celebration.
One of the theatre industry's most visible landmarks, Duffy Square, home of the the 25-year-old TKTS discount ticket booth run by the Theatre Development Fund, is slated for a reconfiguration.
Playbill On-Line has learned that the Duffy Square island will definitely be expanded on a semi-permanent basis, five feet north along West 47th Street, and seven feet west along 7th Avenue. The street space that will be annexed to enlarge the square is the existing "lay-by-lane" space, and is not currently intended for traffic lanes.
The northern annexation along 47th Street will bring Duffy Square's northern curb in line with the adjacent corners at both Broadway and Seventh Avenue. The semi-permanent construction at Duffy would allow the city to retrocede the square to its existing size, if necessary.
However, the Duffy Square annexation could be made permanent subject to state approval through the Alienation of Property process in Albany. This process is required for any permanent reconfiguration as Duffy Square is a state park.
Two arguments support the enlargement of Duffy Square. One is that pedestrian traffic at TKTS overwhelms the existing sidewalk space during peak hours. The second is the larger than normal New Year's Eve "media tower" that is planned for construction on Duffy Square during the millennium celebration.
Disruption at TKTS during the construction of the tower is expected, though plans to deal with the situation are not finalized.
In addition, speculation continues in the theatre community about whether or not Broadway theatres will be dark New Year's Eve. Community Board 5 president Lola Finkelstein said the idea to close theatres actually came from within the theatre community, and did not come from the community board or the city. Finkelstein does not think theatres should close.
"We think it's kinda nutty," Finkelstein told Playbill On-Line. "So far it's just conversation, but part of the tradition for so many people here is going to the theatre on New Year's Eve. I don't think its going to be so impossible. I think it is going to be wonderful, fabulous, exciting -- and yes, difficult. The best argument I have heard for closing the theatres was that theatre owners were afraid that theatregoers would be very inconvenienced getting in and out, and that the tumult and crowds will make it unsafe."
-- By Murdoch McBride